The holiday party: a cautionary tale

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December 3, 2002 // UPDATED 1:34 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

How one too many rum-and-cokes spoiled year-end fun forever

It's not the fact that fewer companies host holiday parties that surprised me. It's not even that companies are spending about half as much per employee as they did two years ago. No, what surprised me, as I read the USA TODAY article on holiday parties, was a quote from a consultant saying "these holiday office parties are popular."

"Popular" is not a word I would use to describe these parties. Not one to be mistaken for a party girl, I've always regarded holiday company parties more in the vein of a command performance -- something that you had to do -- not something you really wanted to do.

Am I so out of touch with my fellow comrades in work that I couldn't tell a good time if it were right in front of me?

Apparently that is a yes-and- no answer.

USA TODAY's consultant, Ken Abosch of Hewitt & Associates, has been studying the effects of holiday parties and bonuses on employee morale for several years. When I asked him the popularity question, he clarified, "These parties are more about celebrating the effort and hard work of employees and not so much about the holidays. It's an opportunity for the company to take the time to say thank- you."

Net net: It's hearing management say "Thank You," not the hors d'oeuvres, that makes these parties popular. People I chatted with seemed to agree with Abosch.

As one person said, "I believe it is a small token that can be given and enjoyed by all the hard-working employees. I see it as a morale booster."

Of course, there are the employees who don't want a party during the holidays. At one Downtown hair salon, the employees said "Thanks but no thanks" when they were invited to a dinner at an upscale Loring Park restaurant.

As Denny, the owner, explained, "They have busy lives with friends and families. They don't want to spend a weekend evening during the holidays with their work associates. I'll do something in January to say thank-you."

Just in case companies that have cut back on their weekend extravaganzas are feeling bad about it, they shouldn't. Some employees actually prefer having the party during the work day.

"One very important thing that I think will make or break the holiday party is having it during work hours! We always go to the party about 11 a.m. and after the party (about 2-3 p.m.) we take the rest of the day off. That makes it nice," said Joy, a graphic designer.

Another advantage of having the office party during office hours is that there is less likelihood people will drink too much and say things they may regret for the rest of their careers.

And so I share my holiday tale.

Once upon a time, long long ago, in a land far far away, two young female reporters would get together for a weekly home-cooked meal. One night, as they dined on Chun King Chicken Chow Mein over Minute Rice and a bottle of Nouveau Beaujolais, the silly young girls decided it would be fun to rank their male co-workers. And so, long before David Letterman had a Top 10 list, these two ingnues created their own top 10 -- ranking their news director as the potentially best lover in the newsroom.

Several months passed. The two girls never breathed a word of the list. But then, on the night of the holiday party, one of the girls, who had one too many rum-and-cokes, decided it was time to go public with the list.

And so it came to pass that one of the young reporters could never quite get excited about going to a holiday office party again.

The moral of the story: Don't share secrets with girls who like rum-and-coke, and leave the Top 10 List to David Letterman.

If you have a good workplace dilemma or just a good story to tell, please contact Elana Centor at ecentor@mn.rr.com. You can remain confidential, as can your company.