Everyone has a favorite tale to tell, but the goal is to avoid a starring role in office chatter about that cringe-worthy, embarrassing Christmas office party moment that is the center of next-day water-cooler talk.
From a survey of a half-dozen Durango-area businesses, it seems Southwest Coloradans are a fairly reserved bunch, with perhaps the art galleries the place to hit if you are looking for the best party scene.
But even Durango’s artists seem fairly tame.
The biggest hint of a fun evening came from Peter Hay, co-owner at Studio & Gallery.
“We have a pretty memorable evening. It makes me glad I don’t work for IBM,” he said of the gallery’s annual Christmas party.
This year’s Studio & party, planned for Dec. 23 at the gallery, will feature a dance performance.
At the other end of the spectrum, Andrea Avantaggio, admits the annual Christmas party – which is actually held after Christmas and is a “We Survived the Holiday” party – is a pretty tame affair with baking more than likely to take center stage.
“We booksellers are a pretty tame group. We’re not crazy folks,” she said.
But for the socially anxious, human resource consultants are eager to dole out some advice.
To nix any potential embarrassments right from the start, eliminate alcohol completely and hold the office party during working hours, when it’s understood proper workplace rules still apply.
“I found that many companies have moved away from the nighttime soirée mentality and have events during the workday with no alcohol provided. It seems to be the wave of the future, not to mention a huge cost savings,” said Brent Houchin of Houchin Consulting, a Denver firm that offers human resources services and advice to firms across the country.
In the Harvey Weinstein age, Houchin said, it seems increasingly likely we are entering a new age that minimizes the risk of socially inappropriate behavior that could lead to not just embarrassing behavior but even potentially criminal actions.
Another compounding factor: The digital age leads to a more reserved setting for social-business interactions with the ubiquity and ease of video-making. Essentially, anyone with a $100 smartphone is an aspiring creator of viral content
The good news, Houchin said, for punch-the-timeclock employees: The office Christmas party is fraught with more risk the higher up you are on the corporate food chain.
“Employees watch their ‘bosses’ more closely than management could ever give credit for. They are the subject matter of conversation, jokes in and out of the workplace. If they act inappropriately, not only will their employees most likely video it on their phones, but the texts and social media posts of their actions could be damaging,” he said.
Jules Martinez Hirst with Etiquette Consulting Inc. of Culver City, California, offers several “helpful hints” for anyone feeling the holiday social stress, and again, demon alcohol, the magic elixir to lower social inhibitions, takes its place of primacy.
Helpful Hint No. 1: Don’t overindulgeThis goes without saying, Martinez Hirst said, but she added it is the rule most frequently violated, and the consequences are long-lasting and profound.
“Why create a label for yourself?” she asks.
Helpful Hint No. 2: Show up“Some people think I’m with these people all day, do I really want to socialize with them?” Martinez Hirst said. But if the company is going through the effort of throwing a party or even an informal gathering, it is important to go. She even suggests doing social media “research” on your fellow employees to come up with subject matter for discussions. “Avoid small talk,” she says.
Helpful Hint No. 3: The ideal office gift“If a gift exchange is included, don’t make the gift too personal. It doesn’t have to be professional, but if the person you chose likes golf, get golf equipment. Don’t get cologne.”
Also, obey spending limits. “You don’t want to show up your fellow workers.”
Helpful Hint No. 4: Send out thank-yous“Thank the boss for the party. Send cards or emails that say thank you, and if something nice or memorable happens, mention it.
Helpful Hint No. 5: If you are a business owner, manager or supervisor: Express appreciation“Remember this is a time to show appreciation for the year’s hard work. Remember to engage with your employees. Make an effort to get to know the people who help make the business run.”
But all the hints in the world can change the zeitgeist, and Houchin said we are headed into an era with tamer social-business settings – it is everything from a heightened awareness of sexual harassment to the ease of capturing the boss in an unguarded 17-second moment that makes the cyber-rounds as a video attachment.
One firm Houchin deals with in Denver held a huge party downtown and provided unlimited alcohol but also provided hotel rooms to everyone. But the outcome still proved less than ideal with people ending up in other people’s rooms, which brought about a whole host of other problematic issues.
The day of the large office party, no matter the occasion, Houchin said, is past.
“Unfortunately, I have to say that I believe we have to head into a more prim and proper age. I believe that companies should put out rules of engagement when it comes to events, and to refer to their anti-harassment policy,” he said.
Managers and supervisors, he said, should be particularly aware of their behavior. Managers, he said, should be aware that “they can be held responsible as individuals for the actions that they take and can be held liable in court should they take their behavior to the level of harassment.”
Merry Christmas, circa 2017.