How To Ruin The Office Party for Everyone

Termination dust (snow) is on our mountaintops. It’s not particularly early…this is Alaska…but nonetheless, it always SEEMS early. The countdown has begun, of sorts, and now we watch the white blanket slowly but surely make its way down to us here at sea level.

Fall means many things but for me, it means invitations. In Alaska, many…and I mean many…non-profits utilize this time to host fund raising events. My inbox and mailbox typically receive two or three invitations per week for these types of events. In addition, friends and neighbors start to plan their holidays gatherings and “save the dates” will start popping up via text, voice mail or social media feeds. Finally, as a consultant, I am often invited to my client’s holiday parties; these will start occurring around Thanksgiving and continue well into January.

It is the holiday party I’ll focus on in today’s post…because it’s the holiday party that often drives me crazy. 

Let me explain.

Holiday parties have become THE place where employees are “recognized.”

This is crap. If you’ve waited to communicate your appreciation for an employee until the annual party, you don’t deserve to be called a leader. Recognition needs to occur in a timely fashion and if your employees have to wait seven months for you to thank them for their service and performance, you shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t bow down and show ample appreciation for their shared five minutes of fame.

If you want to reserve the holiday party for big “academy award” moments, this is fine, but make sure the specific recognition occurred back when the specific performance and service deserved it.

Holiday parties have become the place where leaders communicate the organization’s accomplishments and its future goals.

This is also crap. As leaders, you need to be continually and consistently communicating these things to your workforce. How else can they align their activities? How else can they celebrate the mini-successes that keep them motivated to fight the good fight? And what makes you think that an employee and/or guest attending your holiday party wants to have you interrupt the festivities and pontificate while awkwardly advancing a poorly done power point presentation? And, be honest, what employee would dare to ask questions and engage in discussion while everyone else impatiently waits for the party to resume?

All staff meetings, team events, company newsletters, company social media or other internal communication mediums are the correct avenues for leadership to spotlight or otherwise communicate corporate plans, corporate concerns and corporate successes. These mediums allow for thoughtful and meaningful interaction and discussion with the workforce.

Holiday parties have become the corporate “keep up with the Jones'” events.

  • “We’re having ours at the Marriot.”jones
  • “Oh, that’s too bad, ours is being held at the Country Club.”
  • “How tragic, we’ve reserved the historic castle in the valley.”
  • “Ha, that’s a hike…we’re doing ours on a yacht in the bay.”
  • “I’ve got you all beat…we are taking a cruise to Mexico!”
    (I am not lying…I have a client with 22 employees and the partners decided to send them all on a three-day cruise to Mexico because it cost about the same as their inflated holiday party.)

Dare I say that these events have become less about “celebrating” and more about “competing.” Now, if competition and image are aligned with your vision, mission and values, go for it! But if these qualities or elements are not aligned with your organization, why on earth would you let them drive or otherwise influence your holiday party?

I’m a firm believer in alignment, SYSTEMATIC ALIGNMENT, with your vision, mission and values. I believe your workforce “feels” when things like recruitment and selection, compensation, and performance management activities are out of whack with the vision, mission and values. While they may not know exactly what bugs them and/or what specifically is misaligned, I believe the disconnect negatively affects them. The same goes for the holiday party…if it’s disconnected to what is actually important to the organization, both leaders and employees will somehow feel it. To that end, I encourage you to remind yourself of your organization’s vision, mission and values, and seek to have a celebratory event that is aligned with such.

Finally, holiday parties have become an entitlement.

It saddens me but I know way too many employees who have been pissed off or disappointed when their organization’s holiday party is perceived to be “less” than it was in previous years. Common sense, appreciation and gratitude, and acceptance of others fly out the window when entitlement enters the room.

  • The employee who wanted good gin at the party gets pissed when his options are limited at the open bar.
  • The employee who brings a guest with peanut allergies is pissed that the chicken satay is served on the same platter as the pot stickers.
  • The employentitlementee who doesn’t have a spouse is pissed that his employer has chosen to make this a “minors free” event due to the open bar because he can’t bring his four year old like he did last year for the picnic (which he complained about, by the way, because there was no alcohol at that event).
  • The employee who only drinks caffeine-free iced tea is pissed that the two options for tea both have caffeine.
  • The employee who doesn’t like rap music is pissed that the DJ is playing some.
  • The employee who likes live music is pissed that the company is using a DJ.

The list goes on and on! My goodness, we are a spoiled bunch, and the holiday party seems to bring out the worst in so many of us.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course, but the problem is, business leaders leave it to some clerk in HR or Admin to plan, organize and execute the party. He/she doesn’t have a champion or sponsor on the leadership team to communicate to the workforce, to explain why decisions are made, and to communicate the expectations of the workforce before, during and after the event.

The solution, of course, is to have a leader step up and do such things! Tell the workforce why a venue was chosen, explain to the workforce how menu options are being considered and selected, and be transparent about budget, reasonableness and expectations.

So, as I said, the termination dust has appeared and the invitations will start arriving. I’m grateful, of course, that I am considered “part of” the workforce and/or “important enough” to include in the festivities. But I will respectfully decline these invitations when I know that the two or three hour “party” will be a painful or awkward example of the narrative above. The ones I will attend will be the meaningful, aligned and reasonable events wherein all of the guests are truly just expected to enjoy themselves and celebrate another year together.

Call me crazy, but I think that’s important.



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