Hey, you the one with lampshade on your head. It’s that time of year again.
Time for the holiday office party.
It also might be time to think back to all those stupid things you (and your co-workers) did last year, and vow not to do them again.
Here are some tips to remember: Eat before you drink. Don’t go near the mistletoe. And most of all, realize that you will be working with these same people the next day, so it’s probably not the best time to profess undying love for the receptionist or to tell your boss what you really think of him.
Actually, the office party has gone through a metamorphosis of sorts in part because the workplace itself has changed. Keep in mind that 30 or 40 years ago there was a pretty clear delineation of roles. Women in most industries made the coffee, men ran the show (or at least were supposed to) and sexual tensions had a way of building up over the months ultimately leading to that big event in December when both sides let their hair down (sometimes literally).
Two more ingredients had a way of leading to trouble in the old days: There typically was more drinking sometimes in the office itself and spouses generally weren’t invited, leading to all kinds of trouble.
Joy Tomme, a retired real estate broker, remembers the time when the office party started at 2 in the afternoon and ended about 7. “By then, people who weren’t married to each other were making out in supply closets, on desks, behind doors. And after 7 they were making out in parked cars, parking lots, on the street.”
Or they were sick.
These days, it’s quite a bit different more sober, more discreet and, some say, a tad dull. While the economic boom times have prompted many companies to put on bigger, splashier gatherings, there are those who would rather just get on the freeway after work and be with the kids.
“There are a lot of forced niceties,” says one politically correct holiday party-goer. “You feel compelled to say all the right things, even to people you don’t like, because your spouse is right there and how would it look to walk away? But my heart is never really in it. That’s probably why you see people head to the bar. A couple of drinks go a long way in getting through the evening.”
Jimmy Jay, who used to go to holiday parties when he worked in real estate, adds: “Everyone is trying to be social, that’s the funniest aspect. They’re all trying to talk about things that aren’t work-related. Men just start talking about sports, it’s almost a prerequisite. That morning you should really read the sports pages.”
When people do behave outrageously, it usually centers on what else? sex and booze.
Katherine Inglese, who sells commercial airtime for local television stations, remembers a friend at a former company who dressed as Santa Claus and got pretty tanked.
“Everyone was pouring shots of Jaeger down Santa’s mouth after a while his white beard was brown,” she says. “Meanwhile, there was this one girl, I thought, she can’t even stand up. She was (coming on with) the president of the company, but she was doing this with everyone, and everyone was really appalled. At some point I realized my friend, Santa, had been gone a long time. Finally we found him in the women’s room (with the girl). You could see his Santa suit through the stall.”
Meanwhile, party-goers damaged the restaurant’s wine cellar, made off with a bunch of bottles, ripped off Christmas ornaments from the tree, and ran up a $3,000 bar tab. The company was asked to leave and not come back.
But there apparently were no repercussions at the office the next day. “Management was appalled but a lot of people thought it was awesome,” remembers Inglese. “This was like a Thursday night the next day, 10 employees out of 60 did not show up because of alcohol poisoning.”
The next year, the company’s president thought he could nip the shenanigans in the bud by having the party at his house. “People were dancing on his couch, they blew the speakers on his stereo. And if you say anything like, ‘Your behavior is inappropriate,’ there’s this thought that you’re the problem,” Inglese says.
Some companies take precautions so there won’t be any trouble, such as having parties during the day. Others have their festivities at hotels and rent a block of rooms in case revelers can’t make it back home. Of course, that can create its own complications.
One employee recalls a fire drill in the middle of the night that sent everyone streaming out of their rooms in their pajamas and frilly lingerie. “It was pretty embarrassing to be there, seeing people you work with in their pajamas or frilly nightgowns,” he recalls.
That was nothing, though, compared with the embarrassment of unmarried couples coming out of the various rooms.
At an advertising agency party at the El Rey theater, one employee found herself in a compromising position after having one too many drinks. She had fallen onto the dance floor, flat on her back. “I ended up making out with some auditor,” she remembers. “It was very embarrassing.”
That same agency’s CEO was famous for dressing as Santa at the holiday party and then hitting on the new women employees by making them sit on his lap and tell him their Christmas wishes.
Worst of all is when rude or obnoxious behavior can put a job in jeopardy.
One film editor who was at a holiday wrap party had one too many drinks, and the director he had just spent 16 months working with asked what he thought of her next script. He apparently wasn’t very kind and the next week found himself without a job.
Which leads to the real moral of this story: Don’t do anything at an office party that you wouldn’t do during a regular workday.
“When I went to my first office Christmas party,” says Jay, “I was told beforehand by one of my co-workers, always be polite, have two drinks, don’t talk about work, do not be the drunk guy at the party.
“But there’s always the guy who gets blitzed out in the corner and does not take advice. He has 12 drinks before dinner, two more drinks during dinner, and two more after dinner. And he’s falling down on the dance floor. Seeing him at work on the next Monday, everyone points and whispers.”