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One thing I won't miss now that corporate America has kicked me to the curb: office holiday parties. Folks who've entered the workforce in recent years may be asking: "Cassandra, what on Earth are you talking about? We don't have holiday parties at our company." Count your blessings. The bottom-line-obsessed managers at many corporations have done away with this dreaded tradition, although for many of us, it died a slow and sad death.

Back in the day, the office Christmas Party (yes, we could say "Christmas" back then) would be held in early December at some swanky hotel or banquet facility. You and you long-suffering spouse were expected to attend. The only reasons for your spouse to want to attend were (1) to drive your drunken ass home and/or (2) to meet the bizarre sociopathic folks you'd been ranting about all year.

You'd also be expected to dress up to impress management. If you didn't already have something suitable, off you went to buy a nice dress or suit coat and the other trappings of corporate respectability. While the cost of the party was paid for by the company (back in the day), you'd still need to pay for babysitting, gas, and parking. Alchohol (back in the day) was free.

Adding free and unlimited alcohol to a room full of anxious people who'd really rather be elsewhere didn't always create the festive mood intended by the party planners. For some attendees, this turned out to be the evening when their inhibitions fell by the wayside and they said or did career-ending things. Fortunately, this was long before the days of mobile phones with embedded cameras, so the documentation was merely anecdotal. Nowadays with Twitter and Facebook, your career could be ruined at future employers as well as your current employer.

Trying to fit in, you'd mingle with people and eat hors d'oeuvres dripping with cholesterol, making small talk, all the while wondering "who the hell is this person, anyway? Does she work here? Is she someone's wife?" In this early phase of the party, you were still mobile, so you could always escape to the bar or the restroom if things got too weird.

Once you were seated for the meal, however, you were trapped like a rat for at least the next hour. Selecting table-mates who shared your cynicism and gallows humor was a must, as you'd soon be subjected to scratch-you-eyes-out boring speeches from company executives extolling the virtues of the hard working employees who made this another fantastic year for the company. The only saving grace to this tedious part of the proceedings was the likelihood that one or more of the speakers was drunk enough to be entertaining.

After dinner, it was time for another trip to the bar, then to the dance floor, where you'd see moves you really never imagined, and surely did not want to see again. Somewhere along the line, office party planners realized that many people would bolt at this point to head home, having paid their dues. Thus were born "door prizes": all sorts of cool items raffled off to attendees. The catch: you had to be there to claim your prize. Otherwise that nice set of luggage or toaster oven or a year's worth of car washes would go to that dweeb in accounting.

Someone invariably took lots and lots of photos, and by the following Monday morning, they'd be plastered all over the cafeteria (yes, kids, this was before the days of Facebook, and thank [insert name of deity here] for that). Trust me: nobody looks good in those photos, and the things that went on... well, let's just say that photodocumentation enabled us all to relive the horror, whether as participants or spectators.

So when companies began to charge people to attend their holiday parties (which were then held after the holidays to - you know - save money), they started down the slippery slope of Holiday Party Elimination. Nowadays, if there's any party at all, it's some potluck lunch in the office, no spouses involved, and get back to your freakin' cubicle and back to work. Don't get me started on the fate of holiday (or any) bonuses.

Count yourselves lucky to have escaped the living hell that the rest of us endured back in the day. Because really: who would want to spend an evening hanging out with the people who treated us like nothing more than cells on a spreadsheet all year? Bah, humbug!

Originally posted to cassandracarolina's fossil record on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 12:02 PM PST.

Also republished by Retail and Workplace Pragmatists - Members and Editors.

Poll

Does your place of employment have a holiday party this year?

5%4 votes
16%12 votes
37%28 votes
10%8 votes
12%9 votes
17%13 votes
1%1 votes

| 75 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  My wife is a school bus driver (15+ / 0-)

    You haven't seen partying until you've seen a room full of bus drivers whose spouses are all under orders to be the designated drivers for the evening.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 12:11:30 PM PST

  •  My department had them, and probably... (8+ / 0-)

    ...still does, but I never went. No point to it. My section has had a Christmas lunch since the current deputy director came on board (late 2005), and I still attend that even though I'm retired. Of course, I was a public employee, so YMMV.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 12:12:30 PM PST

  •  Ugh. Once I hit forty (10+ / 0-)

    ANY type of office function would fill me with dread... I never was much of a mingler, especially with people I couldn't stand. Thank FSM I'm retired now and get to choose my companions.

    No one ever died from laughing too often

    by googie on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 12:16:32 PM PST

    •  Oddly enough (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      weck, NormAl1792, JeffW

      I had no problem mingling with clients, attorneys, government officials, and all the other people I dealt with in the course of my work. Company managers, though, seemed like the most tedious of companions for a party. On some level, they must have known - as we did - that they were just faking it and had no real interest in us other than our ability to help them earn that all-important bonus.

      Those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat it... in summer school.

      by cassandracarolina on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 01:05:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The holiday party is a useful barometer (8+ / 0-)

    of how confident upper management is feeling in the company's fortunes.

    If the party is on-site, or is cancelled entirely, things are not looking so bright.

    If the party is off-site, things are all right.

    If the party is off-site, and there is an open bar, buy company stock.

    YMMV.

    ;)

    Visit Lacking All Conviction, your patch of grey on those too-sunny days.

    by eataTREE on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 12:19:17 PM PST

    •  From past experience (7+ / 0-)

      If the party is insanely extravagant, a real blow-out start working on your resume.  The end is near.  Every company I ever worked for crashed within a year of their biggest party.

      •  I can testify. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cassandracarolina, xgy2, llywrch

        In the mid-'90s, I was part of an improv troupe, and we occasionally hired out to do shows at "functions."  One year, we were hired to perform at a company Christmas party.

        In September.

        Why?  Because the company was going to closing that branch and firing everybody, and they had already paid for the party. So they were damn well still going to have the Christmas party.

        Possibly the strangest audience, in terms of mood, I have EVER performed for.  A mixture of seething anger and hatred, bitterness, the forced jollity inherent in any office party, AND what the hell, an open bar.

        Which all amounts to-- ?  Those people had nothing left to lose and they were going to ENJOY that party!  I didn't know whether we were going to be lynched or worshipped as gods. It was kind of both.

        •  Good grief! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          xgy2

          Nowadays, I wouldn't even be surprised to hear that some company announced their layoffs at the Christmas party. They've found every other way to maximize the pain.

          Those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat it... in summer school.

          by cassandracarolina on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 06:53:02 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I hate forced frivolity. (7+ / 0-)

    There's a departmental party (no thanks), a cross-departmental party (maybe if I'm bored), and a floor party (yes).   There are others (for bigwigs and other departments I'm not invited to.  Booze and food at all, all during office hours, the floor party is a pot luck and the only one I'm at all interested in.

    I'm not much of a schmoozer, so I don't do well at parties where I don't know many people.  That's why the floor party is the only one that appeals to me - it's all people I know and actually have something to talk about with.  

    We do not forgive. We do not forget. The whole world is watching.

    by Tracker on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 12:48:26 PM PST

  •  woah now (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cassandracarolina, weck, Garrett, JeffW

    I'm not sure what companies you've worked for, but I've been at several that had some real blow-out awesome super-rad kick ass parties.

    The free booze, free food, and getting to watch your British born and raised Head of Global Operations trying to grind on the girl with the enormous booty from Accounts Payable to Kayne West's 'Golddigger' were amazing moments in my life.

    Bringing two hot dates to a former company's Christmas party was also a hoot, especially when the CIO spent most of the party staring down the cleavage of Date2, while she spent the evening nearly sitting in my lap. Meanwhile, Date1 is sloshed and laying over the both of us making a huge giddy ball of arms and legs that moved around sporadically from bar to dance floor while trailing a breast obsessed sixty year old man. That party was a blast!

    Even better! I had a Christmas party where I told a pretty ribald joke around the CEO, and he decided to be my buddy for the rest of the night. Oh the stories I heard about everyone! Oh the awkward glances from the other poor suckers who hated these sorts of events as me and the big guy carousing around like a couple of Rat Pack regulars, scotch in one hand, arms around one anthers shoulders, telling awful AWFUL jokes. The next day, text from the CEO "Man, you know how to party. Lets talk about your career on Monday."

    So, I don't know. Mileage varies for sure, and I am well known to be a Legendary Party God, but I tend not to miss my company holiday events.

  •  My employer used to do the... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cassandracarolina

    sort of party you describe, but stopped several years ago.  Now, our department does the potluck lunch at the office thing, with the Secret Santa exchange thrown in (watch what you say about us dweebs in accounting!).

    Many years ago, my lovely wife worked for Nutasweet in their heyday, and they actually threw their party at Navy Pier.  That party must have cost well into six digits.

    GOP Agenda: Repeal 20th Century.

    by NormAl1792 on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 02:18:29 PM PST

  •  Holiday parties of 3 types: (3+ / 0-)

    1) cookies (maybe) available for bank employees to sit, when available, in the board room to sign cards for clients. Card-signing went on for many days.

    2) department party usually held for employees only (about 20 or so) at someone's home. Pot luck, cheap ($10) gift exchange. Dreaded, just because it was another obligation outside of work, but they were actually okay, and with people I generally liked and mostly respected.

    3) client holiday party for bank customers and "centers of influence." Dress up for these, but "best suit" and dressy blouse was dressy enough, since they were immediately after the work day. Hot hors d'oeuvres and alcohol, not much of either if you were smart. Leave as early as possible. Last one I had to go to was 2007. 2008 party cancelled due to flood destroyed the main floor of the bank, and I was gone by 2009.

    •  Interesting that so few of us recall (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Melanie in IA, llywrch

      wonderful times at office parties. For a brief while, we had some "nice" parties at cool locations that were almost enjoyable... Summer picnics (also extinct now) were more fun as we got to see people playing games and not taking themselves very seriously. The picnics were eliminated before the winter holiday parties were; should have been done in reverse: scrap the big expensive gala and have a summer event at a lake or beach with a cookout. Maybe that involved too many liabilities, and the corporate legal department killed that idea ;-)

      Those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat it... in summer school.

      by cassandracarolina on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 02:45:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Likely. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cassandracarolina

        Liability generally was a top priority. But funny how they sometimes missed the forest for the trees...

      •  Company parties are an interesting phenomenon. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cassandracarolina, melpomene1

        I've been to a fair few over the last almost 30 years, and some of the highlights stick with me.

        The dorky accounting guy and his wife who could really, really dance - several styles, well, to  wide variety of music. Seeing executives try to talk their wives out of dancing after watching this was extra priceless.

        Commenting in the hearing of a table of executives and sycophants that good managers were dragged off to share a table with their staff.  The look on the sycophant's faces was also priceless.

        Seeing the look on the CEO's face when the DJ played, by request "Take this job and shove it."

        There have been negatives, such as dealing with the aftermath of an underage employee crashing after getting blotto on free booze at the party, but all in all, I plan to go to the next one.  If your company has them, I would recommend at least dropping in - but if there's free booze, avoid it.  The Admiral Ackbar rule applies.

  •  OK, I enjoyed some of the ones I attended (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cassandracarolina, JeffW

    both as worker and spouse...

    what does that say about me?

    www.tapestryofbronze.com

    by chloris creator on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 04:48:22 PM PST

  •  I'm retired, thank Isis (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cassandracarolina

    But I used to be employed at one of Those Companies.  One year they said, "Oh, gee, productivity has gone up so much we're not giving out raises in April," so everyone went to the "holiday" party and ate as much as they could.

    What a joke.  As if one would want to be with the very people one likes to escape from every evening and weekend!  Although some of my current best friends are people I met at work years and years ago, I don't have any friends at all from my last company, where I spent nearly seven years.

    It is so divine not to be in the corporate world any more!  Thanks for reminding us of this, Cassandra.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 04:49:36 AM PST

  •  I remember one such business party (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cassandracarolina

    Way back in 1997, during the Internet boom years. It wasn't a holiday party, but some kind of celebration for something I never did learn about. Held at a local hotel during business hours which was the scene of a few more parties over the next year. I at least a few hundred people were in attendance.

    I had been on the job for maybe a month, & had gotten married 6 months before. I'm there with a bunch of people I barely know -- probably nice people, but I'm still learning their names -- & I suspect have little or nothing in common with. I don't know anyone else. People stand around & look at each other; I suspect few people outside their immediate work groups are in the same boat. Lots of free food & drink; I don't remember if I drank anything. Some employees had formed a rock band to promote the company -- not that bad of one, but not good either -- & after giving everyone about 20 minutes to arrive the band played a song or two. Then the CEO stands up to give a speech, which he concludes by inviting one & all to enjoy the refreshments & "party down!"

    Practically all of the rank & file are out the door within five minutes. Or rather they escape from an awkward social situation they had no clue how to handle. Not even free food & liquor could keep them taking the rest of that day off & spending it with friends, family or running errands.

    I still chuckle about how that party ended from time to time.

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