Why we need to keep Xmas office parties!

Joy to the World

I loved that ad, you know the one where all the girls are getting ready at the office – straightners plugged in under the desk, computer screens used as makeshift mirrors and work shoes swapped for party heels.  It really captures the atmosphere amongst the office gang before the Christmas party.  And although the girls are in a makeover frenzy, a loosened tie is the guys’ only concession to the festive celebrations. The priority is to get moving and get the pints in.

Around this time there is always keen debate in the Irish press as to whether the office party should be banned or not.  Almost likened to some kind of horrific blood sport, the office do is pulled apart and declared too dangerous and risky an undertaking.   For both employer and employee alike, stories emerge of lawsuits filed, grievances brought to bear, p45s issued and marriages broken.   And so the Irish working masses are told what NOT to do, ever, at the Christmas office party.

There are rules for both guys and girls but if we take the key action words it would seem the girls are more at risk of veering into the vunerable zone.  Rules include no hitting (the bottle or your boss), no asking (for a raise or any kind of recreational drugs), no flaunting (of underwear or sequinned Ibiza-inpsired clubwear), no over-talking, over-eating or over-dancing.  And absolutely, under no circumstances, let there ever be a Limbo moment.

It’s all very cautionary and finger-wagging.  Add to this the current economic situation where there is widespread talk of cancelling Christmas work parties altogether and the outlook is bleak.   So what can we do?   Right now, more than ever, we need a break from all the doom and gloom.  A time to shake loose and end 2012 on some kind of positive note.  But in its current sanitised, scrutinized and downsized state, the festive office party is in danger of extinction. 

Granted, the Christmas office gig won’t see the extravagance of Tiger-tastic yesteryear; the era of chocolate fountains, ice sculptures and spa treatments for staff is certainly over.  Instead it’s bring-your-own-beer style gatherings on the shopfloor.  Or thrify “Bake ‘n’ Bring” option where staff are invited to bake their own cakes and share the goods (No bun fights please).   Many companies have opted to scrap the gig completely and have a celebratory dinner in January instead.   Calling it “Happy January” in some cases I believe (a very brave combination of words considering if this month was a dwarf, it would certainly be Grumpy).

Indeed the concept of the festive office party has evolved somewhat over the years.  Back in the 70s and 80s, when the idea of corporate culture first came to light, the emphasis was on a happy environment.  A company needed happy employees, and happy employees needed to have fun. And the best way to have fun ?  Have a shindig!   Since then, it has manifested itself in various guises, ranging from Blue Nun passed around in plastic cups over the photocopier to the more lavish champagne receptions in quaint country manors.   Taking the theme of a happy workforce to the max, US ice-cream makers Ben & Jerry’s formed a “Joy Gang” to plan the company’s festive frolics.   Their remit was “to infuse joy" into everything that they did for staff events.  Sounds a little scary actually.  I’ve an image of a band of Merry Men brandishing clipboards and jotting down names of all staff members who are not making merry to the required levels. A sort of Smile Police for the staff party.  Creepy.  

These ice-cream moguls even put together a list of the top 30 business motivational songs, including numbers like "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" and "We Are Family."  A little extreme perhaps but we could do with some of that joy infusion on this fair isle right now.  In fact, we could also do with a motivational tune of our own, something to rally the working troops and get the silly back in the season. 

And I know just the song.....all together now.....
It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to”.