Party perils

One of the good things about freelancing is I don’t have to go to an office Christmas party. At first, I thought this was a bit of a drawback, since it effectively means I don’t go to any Christmas parties, being way too old to get invited to anything just for being me.

However, having thought about it for a bit, I am not sure I can remember the last time I really enjoyed an office Christmas party.  Back in the good old days I was too drunk to remember them at all and more recently I have taken the somewhat wiser path of staying largely sober (although I confess this is by no means always true).

I have also removed myself from the risk of facing disciplinary action or even dismissal because of over-indulgence of one sort or another.  Others may not be so lucky as a new survey has revealed one in ten office workers could find themselves in trouble for inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas do.

It has to be said that the survey is probably not completely objective as it was conducted by, a dating website catering to people looking to have affairs.  But, as they say, there is no smoke without fire, so I can imagine there is something in their findings that one in three workers admitted to drunken sex with a colleague and just over half said they had passionately kissed a coworker or their boss during the celebrations.  

I’m not sure my office parties were ever that good, in fact I am not sure I have ever been to a party good enough to make me want to snog my boss (with apologies to all my ex-bosses).  There is no doubt drinking with colleagues at any time, but especially when imbued with the festive spirit, is a dangerous business. 

It is worth remembering that just because it’s Christmas and the boss is buying the drinks normal disciplinary procedures still apply.  Sex on the photocopier, drugs in the loos or lurid comments are no more allowed while dancing the night away than they would be if you were doing the accounts.  And for that matter, dancing on the tables is not a great idea if you don’t want the health and safety police after you. 

My problem at office parties was never so much romantic liaisons as, full as I was of Dutch courage, venting my spleen at the boss for all that was wrong about my job, their management style, the organisation.  Fortunately I never went as far as one ex colleague who sent her abrupt resignation (you can imagine what it said) to the boss via email during the party.  There ensued a frantic, and ultimately successful, attempt to recover it.  I am not sure what the consequences would have been if she had left it.

The days of free booze may, in any case, be numbered.  Research suggests half of parties end up with colleagues fighting, one in three with incidents of sexual harassment and one in five with accidents.  You can be sure these weren’t caused by drinking too much pop or eating too many mince pies. 

Hardly surprising then that a survey commissioned by found around a quarter of employees work fewer than four hours the day after their office party and about a fifth ring in sick or arrive late.  This costs the economy hundreds of millions in lost working hours (tip to employers – have the party on a Friday). 

One man who is not a fan is QPR boss Harry Redknapp, who cancelled the club’s Christmas party because of their dreadful run of form, although he has previously gone on the record saying ‘my views on Christmas parties are that they’re more trouble than they’re worth’.  A wise choice given footballers are generally not known for their good behaviour at any time.  Of course, there are ways to limit the potential for trouble.

For a start, providing unlimited booze is probably asking for it.  Not only will everyone drink more than they should (‘if the boss is paying’), employers may find themselves legally responsible for the welfare of anyone suffering from a drink-related incident, even if it happens outside the party. 

Employers who effectively encourage drinking by providing liberal amounts of alcohol also need to ensure employees can get home afterwards.  Hiring a coach would be a nice, if unlikely, gesture.  Failing that just chuck everyone out before public transport stops.  Would it be unwise for me to confess here that I have, in the past, spent the night after a work do sleeping on the office sofa?  Yes, probably.

Other things to remember when planning the big event: over 1,000 people are injured by Christmas trees every year; Secret Santa is fraught with danger - one person’s amusing Ann Summers gift is another’s sexual harassment claim; not everyone celebrates Christmas, drinks alcohol or eats sausages; basement lap-dancing clubs do not add a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the occasion; on the whole, ‘plus one’ is a bad idea.

If all this puts you off the whole affair, you could just give everyone £20 and ship them off to the nearest pub.  Probably a lot less hassle and they’ll have more fun without you. 

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