Monday, December 22, 2014

The Company Holiday Party? Come on, most folks would rather have a Dunkin Donuts gift card.

There was an article the other day on on the return of the company holiday party. The news that companies that had put the kibosh on this mode of torture were roaring back party-wisesurely dashed the hopes of those reluctant party-goers who’d been enjoying the respite brought about by the economic downturn.

I’m all in favor of celebrating the holidays with colleagues.

In fact, a few weeks ago, the marketing department of one of my local clients invited me to their group outing.

The outing was held in a bowling alley on a workday afternoon. We had drinks and bar food; bowled one game; and did a Yankee Swap.

It checked off all the boxes I like to see checked off for a company event:

  • Small
  • Low key
  • No spouses
  • Business hours
  • Regular clothing

Despite the fact that I’m a horrendous bowler, it was tremendous fun. (And despite the fact that I’m a horrendous bowler, my score of 83 put me right in the middle of the pack. I might have done better if the chargĂ© d'affaires hadn’t laughed off the request of several bad bowlers to put the bumpers up,  removing the possibility of throwing any gutter balls. And, yes, for the curious, this was “big ball” bowling, not candlepin, so 83 is really nowhere near an acceptable score.)

In the past, I worked for companies that made an extraordinarily big deal out of holiday parties: fancy venue, weekend night, party clothing, spousal drag.

I learned to get in and get out quickly, making sure that I at least nodded to everyone you needed to nod to.

No way did I want to come in on Monday and have some Mr. Big or other tell me he hadn’t seen me at the big do.

But these parties were definitely not my thing.

And I don’t think they’re most anyone else’s thing, either.

I’ll exempt from this the twenty-somethings (and the odd full grown up) who want to dress up, get blasted, and have a raucous old time, blithely unworried that they’d gotten in the grill of the company president and told him what you think of the way the company’s run.

Good times, good times.

One of my favorite company holiday party memories is that of one of my colleagues introducing her spouse to the COO.

The COO was a career military man who had grown up in the Midwest, and he and his wife were famously conservative and completely stood out in our hippy-dippy left-bank tech-weirdo environment.

Anyway, my colleague who was introducing her spouse was gay, and although this was more than a decade before gay marriage became a reality, she introduced her partner as her wife.

Our COO did a fairly good job of containing himself, but I thought that his wife would fall off of her pumps.

So the company holiday party is not necessarily devoid of entertainment and fun.

Still, I don’t actually know anybody who enjoys a full-blown company blowout.

But I, of course, don’t know everybody.

Somebody must be enjoying these blessed events – at minimum the folks planning them:

The Boston branch of an international financial firm hired an aerialist to pour champagne into people’s glasses from the ceiling. A local pharmaceutical company put on an elaborate “Alice in Wonderland”-themed event with life-size chess pieces, 20-foot hedges, and chairs hanging from the ceiling. The Somerville entertainment company Paint Nite rented a trolley with a disco ball and took its employees on a pre-party shoe-shopping spree. (Source:


A drug company ran a party with an Alice in Wonderland theme? Hope they at least had the wit to play Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit. (“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small. Go ahead. You know you want to.)

As for the pre-party shoe-shopping spree, it all depends on where the spree took place. Big deal if it’s Payless.

“They’re going over the top,” said Ken Barrett, executive director of BG Events and Catering in Boston, noting that his holiday party business is double what it was five years ago.

Large financial firms, banks, and insurance companies in particular are going all out this year, event planners say, and the price tag for some of the most lavish galas can reach $150,000 or more.

Maybe I’d feel differently if I’d ever gone to a corporate “gala” that cost $150K. I’ve been to some pricey weddings, and I’ve got to say you can have a pretty darned good time even if you have to get dressed up to do so.

But nice as some of the corporate functions I’ve attended have been, I’d still rather have half of what the per capita spend was in cash. Or a Dunkin Donuts card.

Fostering this type of camaraderie can have benefits: It increases trust and boosts productivity in an age of nonstop work when there is little opportunity to socialize at the office, said David DeLong, a Concord workplace consultant.

On the other hand, where there’s free booze to foster the camaraderie, things other than trust increase.

Anyway, there were plenty of fun touches written up in article. Among other goodies – in addition to the aerialist pouring champagne from the ceiling - some holiday gatherings have hadtarot card readers.

Tarot cards, huh?

What could possibly go wrong when the reading suggests poor judgment, stagnation, missed opportunities.

Here’s to a swell 2015!


Thanks to my sister Trish – still enduring the company holiday party, unless she can avoid it – for sending me the link to the party article.

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