The Christmas Party is a small, intense pool of chaos in the corporate year, a licence to misbehave, drink too much, say things you otherwise wouldn’t. Only on the surface is it is a celebration of the company and its achievements for the year. In fact, it is the opposite, a Dionysian release from the Kafkaesque restrictions of HR and hierarchy. It is an opportunity to let rip – be in the company but not subject to its rules. The worst possible venue for the Christmas Party is on company premises. What happens at the party stays at the party
The Christmas party has little to do with Christmas. Giving out presents would be bizarre, unless they were weirdly satirical. Carols are replaced by party hits. . This is no time to reflect on moral issues but a one a year chance to be amoral, even immoral, if at midnight you’re still capable of discerning the difference. A sure sign of this is the yearly debate about whether partners should be included – usually a charade that ends in their exclusion. Everyone knows that they are the one’s that would dampen the whole affair and encourage people to leave early just as the real fun begins.
When I was the CEO of a company I had to rescue a lad who had been caught with cocaine by the staff of the venue. I hadn’t even finished my soup! He was spread-eagled against a wall by the bouncers. Solution? I did a deal with the venue manager to use the same venue for the next year’s party if they let him off. We didn’t sack him – this was a party in Brighton, the town, as Keith Waterhouse once famously said, “that looks as though it has been up all night helping the police with their enquiries”. At another there was a discussion the next day on the sauna trip (famously seedy in Brighton) after the Christmas party where nipple rings, piercings and tattoos had been compared. There were always shenanigans and so it should be.
My friend Julian Stodd tells the story of two people being sacked because they posted images of them getting drunk and throwing up at their Christmas Party. The American CEO has got wind of this (why he’d be interested is beyond me) and had taken action, bringing the full force of HR bureaucracy down upon them. This is pathetic. It’s as pathetic as searching through Facebook to find what a potential employee did when they were a teenager. HR has no business being judge and jury, unless something has caused harm to others. The Christmas Party, in particular, is a no-go zone for that sort of bullshit.
Tales of Christmas Parties Past become part of an organisation’s folklore. The planning needs clear execution but everyone knows that the aim is to organise an event that gradually descends into chaos. We have as a species always celebrated through feasts and drinking. Long may it continue in work.
It’s the perfect opportunity to put the middle finger up to company values, not that anyone pays attention to them anyway, especially those idiotic acronyms, where the words have clearly been invented to fit the letters of the word or lists of abstract nouns all starting with the same letter. For example, “ innovation, integrity and i*****… what was that third one again?” People have their own values and HR has no business telling them what their values should be. They’re personal. Most employees will have values and they’ll be leaving your organisation for another at some time, where another set of anodyne words will be put forward as ‘values’. Keep it simple you need only one rule ‘Don’t be a Dick!’.
Back to the party - organisations need this Dionysian, release valve, as it vents frustrations, allows simmering relationships to form, people to show their true selves, not playing the usual office game, conforming to the sham that is corporate behaviour. Wear a stupid hat, dress up, pull a cracker, drink too much – be a little transgressive, be a dick. HR – leave your rules in the office and do the same.