Panic at the office party: How to avoid HR trouble
It's holiday office party season, that magical time of year when co-workers spend time together having forced conversations over festive snacks that aren't as good as they were before the economy tanked.
Based on extensive research, here is a quick list of tips for a successful and lawsuit-free workplace bash:
- Don't mention Christmas. That might offend people who don't celebrate Christmas. Just call it a "holiday party." Actually, just call it a "seasonal party." And don't decorate. Decorations might be taken the wrong way. Try to hold the party in a bare-walled conference room.
-Don't serve alcohol. Alcohol makes grown-up people do terrible, terrible things. Also, don't serve juice, as that could conceivably be fermented and turned into alcohol. And don't serve soda - caffeine can also make people do terrible things. Just serve water. But not from bottles, because some might view that as environmentally unfriendly. Just run a garden hose into the bare-walled conference room.
-No touching. Holiday parties - excuse me, seasonal parties - are petri dishes for sexual harassment claims, so don't allow workers to hug, shake hands or in any way come into contact with each other. Better yet, put each employee in his or her own bare-walled conference room. (Don't forget to give each person a garden hose - dehydration can lead to litigation.)
-With each party attendee securely locked in his or her conference room (with requisite garden hose), you'll want a way for everyone to communicate and share in the festive party fun. Unfortunately, this will not be possible. People often say things at seasonal parties they later regret, and so any form of verbal or written human interaction must be strictly prohibited.
-Be conscious of people's dietary restrictions. When sliding the BPA-free plastic plate of "seasonal party goodies" into each person's conference room, make sure that the food is peanut-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, sugar-free, lactose-free, free-range, MSG-free, organic, dolphin-safe, fat-free and does not contain red dye No. 40 or yellow dye No. 6.
I present these thorough - and VERY SERIOUS - tips as a means of reflecting on the workplace hysteria that sets in this time of year. For the past month, I've received email after email issuing warnings about office holiday parties and offering up experts who can speak to the pitfalls of having fun where you work.
Consider this headline on a news release from Ashley Madison, a vile "dating" website for married people looking to have an affair: " 'Secret Santa' Is Out, Infidelity Is In ..."
Sounds scandalous! According to a poll conducted by this business that facilitates infidelity, more than 70 percent of people who have affairs with co-workers start those affairs at the company holiday party.
This would be alarming if it was in any way verifiable or even worthy of your consideration. It's neither, but it is another spoke in the wheel of holiday workplace worry-mongering.
Another news release warns not to hang mistletoe. One offers up legal experts who can provide pointers on dodging sexual harassment claims.
Then the nice folks at About.com detail the "Top Seven Office Party Gaffes," which include drinking too much, dressing suggestively and being "the last to leave the office party." (Doesn't somebody have to be the last one to leave?)
Far be it from me to be the voice of reason, but this is a towering, festooned pile of festive poppycock.
There is a tendency in the modern workplace to overthink things, often to the point where once-brilliant ideas are beaten down into sad little clumps of nothing.
I believe we have crossed the Rubicon when it comes to holiday parties. The pre-holiday panic brought on by commercial purveyors of so-called "workplace tips" - and the media that report those tips as facts - has zapped the fun out of what should be a fun time of year.
So here's some advice, which you'll find ties in with a theme I return to regularly in this space: Respect the intelligence of your workers. Treat them like adults.
Everybody knows it's not a good idea to get hammered and yell at the boss, or toss your cookies on the Xerox machine. This is not something people need to be reminded about every December.
As a company, plan an office holiday party, take basic steps to ensure you're not setting yourself up for liability issues (offer free cab rides, for example), and then don't suck the fun out of the event by warning everyone in advance of the 500 stupid things they shouldn't do.
If we believe in nothing else this holiday season, let's believe in our own ability to be responsible working adults.
And if anyone needs me, I'll be in my bare-walled conference room, drinking from the hose and nibbling some festive, gluten-free holiday soy snacks.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @RexWorksHere.
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