The tyranny of the office party

Visiting Longriders blog this morning, I was not unsurprised to read his account of a Christmas ‘celebration’, and enforced playing of a silly game thought up by HR. The person who thought that one up deserves to be stabbed in the eyes and burned alive. As a team building exercise, making people play ‘Christmas games’, although the one Longrider described was a new one on me, has to have FAIL stamped all over it. It was a complete waste of After Eight mints too.

Who dreams up this shit? Have they nothing better to do with their time? Those of us who are humble working stiffs come to work to perform our duties as agreed in our contracts, hopefully to mutual satisfaction before going home to our real friends and families. The idea being that after a suitable break we return refreshed and enthusiastic to our cash-earning tasks, thus contributing to the health of the enterprise we work for.

I will say this to any Manager or employer who wishes to drop by this blog; please, please, no more ‘organised’ office parties. They are always unremitting mental torture. Anyone of anything but the basest intelligence or sophistication abhors them, so why bother? People should have lives outside of the daily grind, or they tend to lose their effectiveness over time.

Every ‘Works; Christmas party (Although I know these are only a tax dodge) I have ever been to has been intended to motivate, but actually had the opposite effect upon me and my co-workers. Let me explain; my personal time is precious to me. I spend enough of my life with the people I work with. If I wish to socialise further with them, I will do so, but will not be forced to.

In addition, asking people to pay to attend such an event is I think, merely rubbing salt into an open wound. Like the appalling forced gift giving, or ‘Secret Santa’ practice, which only a minority really enjoy. On the whole, only a few, and if you’ll forgive me I’ll be sexist here, persons of the female persuasion ever suggest such activities. Males, on the whole, do not.

If an employer wishes to show their appreciation for loyalty and good work, perhaps a small cash bonus might be in order, or a small gift. The best Christmas gift I ever had from my boss was fifty quid, a bottle of decent blend Whiskey and large jar of Quality Street Chocolates (Well, it was the early 80’s). Sure, he’d probably bought them at wholesale prices, but for this I was duly grateful to my employer (I’m easily pleased). In fact a lot of this kind of informal reward went on until the tax man cracked down on such practices. Mostly because the exchequers in question thought it was a tax dodge. Up until that point, the ‘Christmas Box’ or seasonal bonus had been a long standing British tradition. I once left work with a large deep frozen Christmas turkey in my backpack that my boss had handed to me, along with a small cash gift, having to hitch-hike twenty miles home on a damp and unpleasant evening with a frozen patch of skin. This gift too was deeply appreciated, as my family was a bit borassic at the time.

For my own part, I am no Ebeneezer Scrooge. In our house we are always delighted to welcome friends at this, or any other time of year, and Mrs S and I will happily break bread or share a toast with friends old and new. In Canada, there is the long established practice of the ‘potluck’, where neighbours bring along beer, wine, and some other goodies to share and have a damn good jaw. You come or go at your pleasure, and there are no hard and fast rules about how long you can stay or who leaves when. However, that is purely voluntary. Shouldn’t this always be so?

What raises my hackles every time is any attempt at coercion to attend any event. This single element is what makes the office party one of the most unpleasantly tyrannical and demotivating acts an employer can visit upon their employees. Notwithstanding, such an event is a minefield of inappropriate conduct, so that any Employer / Manager with even the slightest concern about litigation should steer clear of by a country mile. Similarly, alcohol and the workplace should never mix, unless of course you are a taster of wine or other alcoholic liquor.

No more. Or at least make attendance a purely voluntary affair outside working hours. Your employees will reward you for it. At least, the ones who have lives.

4 thoughts on “The tyranny of the office party”

  1. Human resources departments are a make-work project to employ a bunch of females so the company can claim to be diverse, my last employer even had the token gay guy to boost diversity. Females love the organization of staff parties, birthday party celebrations and such it sure beats real work. Kathy Shaidle at fivefeetoffury has the best understanding of this.

    I certainly agree with your comments, the dreaded team-building meetings are similarly dire and absolutely despised by most employees.

    There was a time when human resources was called personnel and managed off the side of the desk of one manager, with one woman doing payroll and advising people about deductions. Seemed to work better, she was too busy to get involved with frivolous nonsense.

    Merry Christmas to all.


  2. “Who dreams up this shit? Have they nothing better to do with their time? ”

    Of course they don’t, Bill. It’s how they justify their existence within organisations. HR, as far as I’m concerned, stands for Human Remains. The entire HR dept in any company is completely superfluous. All any company needs is someone to keep a record of who works there, attendance and holidays and to make sure the payroll is done on time. That’s it!

    Anything else is just froth and bullshit.


  3. Best I ever got from an employer was a 15lb turkey and a bottle of piss. Cheap piss, it must be said, but I was in my early 20s and as easily pleased with cheap piss as decent stuff, and in any case the turkey was the big deal for me. And best of all we weren’t made to have a staff Christmas party.


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