One year, my wife’s employer sent out a broadcast email which stated, “this year, our annual winter celebration will be held…”
I refused to go.
When I was asked why, I said, “I don’t go to winter celebrations. I go to Christmas Parties.”
The next year, by the way, it had reverted back to being a “Christmas Party” again. The CEO got the message, I think, loud and clear.
That same year, at my particular employer’s Christmas Party, the new General Manager got on the mic and said, “I’d like to welcome you all to our holiday party…”
I heckled him, shouting “It’s a Christmas Party!”. I wasn’t the only one. Later, I went over to him, shook his hand, and said, “Merry Christmas, Bob.” (At that particular employer, to be promoted to upper management, you had, it would seem, to be named Bob. Every manager I can remember at this place was either a Bob, or Robert. Strange thing, that…)
That was also the last Christmas Party where I had a good time.
I had a good time because the people I was sitting with were all friends. While none of us work there any more, I still am in contact with one of them, which is saying something.
It also explains why I have come to absolutely loathe office Christmas Parties.
Let’s be honest here: most of us are employed. We get up in the morning, go to work, put in our 8 hours, hopefully doing our absolute best at our jobs, and hopefully it’s a job we love. I get that. Trust me – I get it more than you likely realize.
At the end of the day, we pack up our things, say goodbye to our co-workers, put on our jackets, and head back home again to our families. We kiss our spouses, meet our kids (perhaps we pick them up from daycare or something) and have supper. We play with our kids, enjoy the process of parenting, put them to bed, then flop down on the couch, cuddle up to our spouse, watch a bit of TV, or talk, and eventually call it a night; and anything that happens after you call it a night is your business.
Now, since we’re being honest, sometimes I’m sure we may grab a beer with one or two of the guys from work. Maybe we’ll have lunch with someone here and there. But really, where in this mix do you see anything that includes “hanging out with co-workers?”
And that’s the point.
Co-workers are just that – co-workers. They’re all talented, awesome people. They’re smart, witty, and damn good at what they do. That goes without saying. Some are even fun to be around. Some are insatiable flirts, and others are really interesting to sit and chat with over lunch. But at 5:00pm, we go home. We don’t usually end up at their houses on week-ends cooking hamburgers and drinking beer while our kids chase each other around the back yard. We don’t get too close. Our relationships are friendly, yes, but they’re professional. They’re courteous, close even – but there’s that barrier of professionalism that we — consciously or subconsciously — maintain.
The fact is that most of these people, as fine, decent, talented as they are, are not people that we would hang out with outside of work. We spend more time with our co-workers than our own families not because — well, in most cases — we want to, but because we’re paid to.
So why is it then, that, once a year, we feel compelled to attend the obligatory Office Christmas Party? I’ve attended my fair share, and most of them involved standard banquet-hall sliced turkey, with mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and some form of dessert. Everyone sits around the tables in groups of 8 and, after introductions are made, immediately forget everyone’s name, and then make inane small talk for the next hour over dinner. Everyone is very careful to keep the Three Taboos (politics, religion and sex) out of the conversation, so anything meaningful or interesting gets displaced in favour of mindless, meaningless niceties. “What do you do?” “Oh, I’m the Assistant to the Southern Regional Consulting Management Division in charge of Peripherals. How about you?” “Me? I’m just this guy, you know?”
And so on.
Following this, there’s a few speeches from the top managers, where they tell everyone how wonderful they all are, thank everyone for their hard work over the year, and then tell everyone that things have never looked better for the year to come.
After the speeches comes the dancing. The DJ cranks up the music with so-called classic songs which everyone hears year after year. It became a running joke with my wife, another couple, and myself – a couple that I only saw once a year at the Christmas Party – that Mustang Sally was “our song,” because it got played every year at the Christmas Party, and, at the first party we sat as a group, the live band performed it so badly it was laughable.
So once the dancing begins, a few brave outgoing souls fill the dance floor and engage in the obligatory couples dancing. Fake-ballroom dancing with each other around, while everyone else sits and watches. The pleasant dinner conversation – no, make that inane small-talk – has died out by this point, and besides, the music is usually too loud to make any intelligent conversation possible anyway.
So everyone sits around the table and stares at each other for a moment. The awkwardness of the moment builds while people desperately search for something to start a conversation, and then realize they’ve got nothing. Couples end up just talking to each other about the plans for tomorrow, the kids, or anything really that they could just as easily be talking about in the privacy of their own home. The single people talk to their dates (if they brought one) or try to start conversations among themselves, but most of these usually involve discussions about work, which peter out quickly because they all then realize that there’s nothing they can do to make any decisions at that moment anyway.
The night drags on.
People stare at each other.
Some people dance.
People get bored.
Eventually, after what seems like a week of torture, people start to go home. The drunk people get cabs, and the sober people drive home.
You see, the office Christmas Party is a false construct. It’s contrived, and it’s phony. It takes a bunch of people who otherwise wouldn’t get together in a social setting, and throws them into one. The banquet setting, with the 8-person round tables, the speeches, and the dancing is a tried-and-true design to take people who have little in common other than their employer, and force them to pretend to be best friends for a night. Everyone is on their best behaviour because the banquet setting gives it a formal feel. We even dress up for Christmas parties; not because we want to, but because everyone else does. I saw a few people show up in jeans one year. They were some of the first to leave. The next year, they all showed up in shirts, jackets and ties, and you could tell they all hated wearing them.
The concept of the office Christmas Party as a drunken night of debauchery where the Sales Manager ends up wrapping his tie around his head and throwing up on his boss, while the Receptionist photographs her rear end then wakes up next to the Production Manager in a cheesy hotel room with a splitting headache and no idea how she got there is, by and large, Prime Time TV Fiction. It just doesn’t happen. Or at least, I (thank God) don’t get invited to those sorts of parties!
So please, let’s drop the pretense. The office Christmas Party is probably one of the worst events of the year. Especially for the spouse who doesn’t work for the company! So let’s do everyone a favour: stop holding them.