Excerpt from “Corporate Crap” – Chapter 21: Office Parties

Published December 3, 2018

In my first book—NOW They Make It Legal: Reflections of an Aging Baby Boomer—there was a chapter titled “Party: The Verb.” I explained how we Baby Boomers took a noun “used to describe an event where people get together to celebrate or have a good time” and turned it into a verb that means “to get high, drunk, stoned, or somehow inebriated, usually with others.”

Increasingly, companies are trying to eliminate partying, the verb, from office parties. Specifically, they are cutting down on the open bars where unlimited access to alcohol has historically offered comic relief at stuffy business functions.

Alcohol is the legal, sanctioned drug of our society … glorified for helping us celebrate virtually anything as well as drown our sorrows when things are bad. It also can make you act like a jerk, say things you’ll regret, and get your company in trouble.

For most U.S. employees, the company event most likely to include alcohol has always been the annual Christmas party. Nowadays these are usually called “holiday” parties to sound more inclusive.

These events bring introverts and extroverts together to celebrate the end of the year. You’d think the extroverts would be thrilled and the introverts would look for the nearest foxhole, but this is not always the case, especially if there’s alcohol involved. I’m an introvert and I used to love business functions with an open bar. This was probably because once the alcohol kicked in, I was no longer an introvert. Alcohol has a way of doing that to some people.

“Over 40 percent of employees report having seen or experienced embarrassing holiday party conduct” when alcohol was served, according to one law firm in a warning to companies on the perils of serving alcohol at their holiday parties.

Companies have been throwing fewer holiday parties since 2010, when recession forced many to cancel or cut down on their celebrations for economic reasons. Gone for many were the professionally catered affairs with lavish hors d’oeuvres, hand-carved filet, and fancy ice sculptures. Since then, most of the downturn has been due to worries about legal liability driven by the presence of alcohol.

With or without alcohol, company parties present challenges for employers and employees. Fortunately, as with every aspect of corporate life, there are consultants out there to help. Career counselors encourage employees to view company social events as opportunities to boost their livelihoods by broadening their scope of business contacts. “Once an hour, try to meet someone you don’t know,” says one such consultant.

There are consultants who provide tips on how to carry yourself, approach people, when it’s okay to interrupt, when to offer a handshake. They teach you how to “start a conversation with flattery” and make eye contact. Some tell you to work the room with a “wingman” and prepare for the party by checking out the LinkedIn profiles of people who might be there.

There is specific advice on holiday parties, like commenting on the decorations or homemade treats that might be on the table, or asking people about their plans for the holidays … and to make sure you don’t come off like you’re “brown-nosing” even though you are.

In addition to warning companies to watch it with the booze, consultants advise them on things like appropriate dress codes for employees at company events and what activities to avoid to reduce potential legal issues.

“I’m sure this information is valuable to people considering adding beer pong, wet T-shirt contests, or scripture readings to their holiday office parties,” says Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune, who used to write a column on workplace practices…