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 have attended the extremes of lavish affairs and frugal gatherings. During a tough year on one project that was losing millions, my beloved former colleague, Clare, 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 f**king corner at McDonalds?’
At 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 those parties, an American Sailor on shore leave was invited. He began to peddle drugs to the wide-eyed staff members with his loud boasts of ‘I can get you anything!’ He then rattled off a long list of illegal substances. Most of the employees had only come along in the hope of a free beer and sausage roll.
A friend recounts how he looked across the Christmas party table at a girl who was sporting an unusually frizzed beehive hairdo. ‘What have you done, Sharon?’ he asked in a concerned fashion. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I were 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 Sharon. She still made it to the party. 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 organizer. ‘We need to talk. I am not attending Christmas lunch at a vegetarian restaurant and I don’t care how well they promote the nut roast.’
It’s not easy to be the organizer and please everyone. And it’s not easy to wield the stick of Health and Safety and the employer’s duty of care. I have recently reminded a manager that the finishing time should be clearly communicated. Why is this so? Because it saves many hours of your time if you can say later on, ‘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. Free ranging gropers and sudden punch-ups tend to worry organizers, but from an employment law news feed, I read examples of bad party behaviour that include 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 cultural insensitivity issues and sexual harassment risks inherent in the Secret Santa ritual.
The last formal Christmas party I attended for work was elegant and well behaved. At least, that was true 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 a regular bottle opener and that your employer doesn’t book a corner table at McDonalds.