It’s that time of year for the office Christmas party, a ritual that we may relish or dread. Only the most curmudgeonly or drastically ill employee is excused from attending and excuses such as ‘a sudden bout of leprosy’ are unlikely to be believed.
In my working life I can recall extremes of lavish affairs and frugal gatherings. During a tough year on a project that was losing millions, my party organising colleague was constantly rebuffed by a Finance Director, who kept asking her to find cheaper options for a non-alcoholic lunch. One day she put her head in her hands and cried; ‘Am I supposed to book a corner at McDonalds?’
For some of my earliest parties there was a high blood alcohol content by the evening’s end and photocopiers did not fare well on those occasions. At one of these nights, an American Sailor on shore leave was invited. He began to peddle drugs to the wide-eyed staff members with his accompanying boasts of ‘I can get you anything!’ and then rattled off a long list of illegal substances. It was entertaining, I suppose. Most of our employees had only come along in the hope of a free beer and sausage roll.
A friend recounts how he looked across a Christmas party table at a girl who was sporting an unusually frazzled beehive hairdo. ‘What have you done, Sharon?’ He asked in a concerned fashion. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I was just getting ready and thought I’d fix my hairdo with spray but I forgot I had a ciggie in me gob.’ Full marks to her for her bravado. Most people who lose their eyebrows in a hurry need some time to grieve.
Another friend has written that he is not happy with his office plans this year and has sent these words to the organiser. ‘We need a strategy! Christmas lunch should NOT be held at a vegetarian restaurant and I don’t care how well they promote the nut roast.’
It’s not easy to be the organiser and it’s not easy to wield the stick of Health and Safety and the company’s duty of care. I have recently reminded a manager that the finishing time should be well publicised. Why is this so? Because it saves many hours of paperwork if you can say later on in the year, ‘I’m terribly sorry you are expecting triplets with the Sales Director, but it really has got nothing to do with us.’
On the actual night there can be a variety of managerial headaches. Gropers and punch-ups tend to worry organisers, but from an employment law news feed, I read examples of bad party behaviour that includes urinating off a balcony on to dining patrons below, and most creatively, using a genital piercing to open beer bottles during the party. Please don’t get me started on the likely cultural insensitivity and sexual harassment risks inherent in the Secret Santa ritual.
I just attended an office party and it was elegant and well behaved. At least it was when I left. The DJ played Stayin Alive and I waited to see someone throw a white jacket across the dance floor and point to the fire alarms – but it was not to be. I have no choice these days but to remain absolutely sober and behave myself. Whatever events you attend, enjoy yourself and above all, pray that the bar staff have their own bottle opener.