November 20, 2011
The holidays have always been an ideal time to get intoxicated and do embarrassing things that cause irreparable harm to important relationships.
It's a little-known fact that after the three wise men delivered their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus, one of them hit the vino a little hard and sent out a tweet that said, "LOL! What kind of loser gives myrrh as a gift?!?" (Trust me, that was one awkward camel ride home.)
And so, with the holidays descending on us faster than reindeer droppings from Santa's sleigh, it's a good time to talk about the pitfalls of festive office parties.
"I am a big advocate these days for sober parties," said Harris Stratyner, an addiction psychologist and regional clinical vice president at the New York offices of Caron Treatment Centers, a nonprofit drug and alcohol addiction treatment provider. "I think you have to be a fool in this economic zeitgeist to consume alcohol at a holiday business party and risk the chance of doing something that raises eyebrows from your business superiors."
Call him Dr. Buzzkill if you'd like, but Stratyner has a point. At a time when people are desperately clinging to their jobs — and feeling awfully lucky to have them in the first place — even an unintended slip-up around the wrong person could prove costly.
A study commissioned by Caron Treatment Centers found that more than half of those who have attended work-related social events have seen colleagues behaving inappropriately, from flirting with co-workers to driving drunk. And the ability to swiftly post pictures and comments on social media sites has only amplified the potential for trouble.
So should a workplace have a holiday party at all? And if so, should employees bother going?
The answers are "yes" and "yes." But organizers and attendees should keep a few things in mind.
The problem with office holiday parties is that they're business settings cleverly disguised as social functions. Don't forget: Whether you're partying in a conference room or in a bar down the street, IT'S STILL WORK!!
"Employees have to recognize and understand that they should not let their guards down," said Paul Lopez, an attorney at the Florida law firm Tripp Scott who specializes in employment and business disputes. "In their own free time they can act as raucous and out of control as they want, but the truth is a company party is not the right venue to completely let your hair down. There are bells that sometimes can't be unrung, and they certainly can permeate the workplace after the party."
Lopez also advocates keeping company parties dry. However, if booze is provided: "We always recommend that companies communicate to employees that in the event they have had too much to drink, there will be no repercussions for getting a cab or some form of shuttle service. The company should be prepared to pay for that and reimburse any employee who decides to take a cab."
The other issue is to make sure there are management people — sober management people — monitoring the party.
"If you see somebody getting out of line or acting inappropriately — the intoxicated male boss on the dance floor trying to kiss every girl with a heartbeat — you need to get that guy out of the room," Lopez said. "You need to shut that down and stop that kind of behavior from happening. A company-sponsored holiday party is analogous to the workplace, so the rules are all the same."
Evelyn Williams, associate vice president for leadership in the Wake Forest University Schools of Business, said bosses should take an active role in making sure holiday parties are properly lined up.
"I think it starts even in the planning stages, whether you personally celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or 'Festivus for the rest of us,' you have to make sure the tone is inclusive and appropriate," Williams said. "You can't just abdicate responsibility. You have to be clear about tone and inclusivity."
She also believes the boss — or bosses — are obliged to stay in control: "Even though it's a social occasion, you don't get to hand the mantle of 'boss' away. People still have expectations of you. You have to be 100 percent in control of your behavior and recognize there could be consequences if you're not."
All agreed that in the rush to throw a good party, the point of what the party should accomplish is often overlooked. I love free beer and bacon-wrapped scallops as much as the next guy, but at the end of the day, I'm going to appreciate some recognition and support more.
"Bosses should think about the good things they can do at these events," Williams said. "Give the gift of being fully present to your employees. Be a good listener. Express gratitude for the hard work that they've done."
And from the employees' standpoint, listen to the good Dr. Stratyner: "Don't drink before you go to a holiday party. Don't smoke a joint before you go to a holiday party. This is no time for people to get involved in being high and Twittering and posting things on Facebook. This is no time for people to consume mood-altering substances when they could destroy their livelihood and career."
Yikes. Sounds kind of Scroogey.
But I'm afraid it's a bit of holiday wisdom worth taking to heart.
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