If all goes as planned, later today I’ll be joining the marketing department of one of my local clients for their annual holiday lunch. I very much like the folks there, and very much enjoy working with them. We’ll be at a nice restaurant, but the event will be low key. There’s a Yankee Swap, and I’ve decided to bring a straight gift, i.e., something that someone might actually like, want and use, rather than a gag one. (For a moment I entertained the thought of boxing up a bunch of the “treasures” I’ve accumulated over the years of doing the family Christmas Eve Yankee Swaps over the years. There’s that hideous clown statue. And the box of c. 1978 catechism class planning cards. Too bad I gave away the Elvis guitar clock.)
Today’s gathering will, fortunately, have none of the trappings of the traditional company party: after dark (after hours), fancy (or fancy-ish) location, fancy (or fancy-ish) dress-up, obligatory spouse drag, and the perilous availability of free alcohol.
On the list of things I decidedly don’t miss about working full-time, the annual holiday party is right up there.
I will say that I got pretty good at gaming my appearance and keeping it to the absolute minimum: show up a little late, grab a glass of wine and an appetizer or two, make sure to make seom face time or at least eye contact with those who keep a mental checklist of who’s there, do a bit of eye-rolling with your work buddies and say hello to their spouses, nab a few goodies from the buffet table and wrap them in a napkin for later, then cut and run. Once home, kick off shoes, thank spouse for his guest appearance, geniality, and restraint, and pour a real glass of wine for yourself.
Even I was only going to be there for 90 minutes max, I always approached the annual holiday party with something approaching existential dread.
Not that I didn’t like my colleagues. I made many close “life friends” at work.
It’s just that, dating back to my parochial school days when we were pretty much forced to feign ecstasy when presented with any perk – a screening of The Boy with Green Hair, the visit of a Filipino priest who barely spoke English (which he barely spoke or half an hour) – I have despised anything that feels to me like “obligatory fun.”
And, although I never worked a 40 hour week, I really resented having to eat into my personal time to attend a company function. (However it may appear on paper, there is no “fun” in company function.)
When I worked at companies that held major “obligatory fun” holiday parties, I always maintained the most employees would rather have $50. Or a turkey. Or an “early release” day. Or, at minimum, comp time for the hours they spent at the party. All preferable to suffering through the company party.
Turns out I was right.
According to a survey done by Glassdoor, reported in Fortune/CNN:
For the second year in a row, almost nobody wants to celebrate the season with a party, "even with an open bar."
What people overwhelming want (73%) is a bonus. Or a bit of time off that doesn’t come out of their existing vacation pot (36%). Folks would welcome a grocery gift card (29%) or permission to telecommute (13%). A mere 5% want a party.
I’ve got to believe that most of the 5% are folks with an at-home spouse who wants a break from spit-up and Dora the Explorer and/or wants to finally put a face with the names that the at-work spouse is always grousing, gossiping, raving about.
The holiday parties I didn’t mind were the ones like I’m going to today, or a full company party held for employee only, during working hours, at the office or at a nearby restaurant.
There’s enough stress around the holidays without compounding it with the company party.
Not for me…
And I wouldn’t have liked to 1950’s-1960’s drunk-out in the office, lampshade on the head, grope in the darkened office version either. Still, they were fun to watch on Mad Men.