how to throw a holiday party that employees will want to attend

by Ask a Manager on December 13, 2013

This post was originally published on December 10, 2010.

Every year around this time, I hear from people complaining about various ways their companies are mishandling the holiday party, so here are eight rules for throwing a better company party.

1. Hold it during work hours, especially if attendance is any way obligatory. Seriously. People will be much more enthusiastic about attending.

2. After you follow rule #1, make arrangements so that no one is stuck covering the phones while everyone else goes to the party.

3. Don’t expect people to read your mind. If there are work repercussions to not attending, be honest and tell people they’re expected to attend. But if the event is truly supposed to be for their enjoyment, accept that some people won’t show up because they don’t enjoy such events (or would rather spend their non-work time doing something else), and be okay with that. Don’t penalize people for not going, even just in your head.

4. Do not hold the party on a boat. People must be able to escape at any time.

5. Under no circumstances should employees need to pay to attend. If you need to charge your party guests in order to cover your expenses, that’s a sign that you need to have a less lavish party.

6. Hanukkah ornaments do not belong on a Christmas tree.

7. Door prizes. Have them.

8. Consider letting your staff vote on whether they want a holiday party or a day off … and don’t be upset when lots of people vote for the day off.

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{ 227 comments… read them below or add one }

Just a Reader December 13, 2013 at 11:06 am

I’m so glad to see boat parties here. Worst work party ever was 4 hours on a boat in the pouring rain.

Honestly I’d rather have a bonus and/or a day off than a forced celebration with people I see every day who are not my family.

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Jen December 13, 2013 at 11:25 am

Boat parties are THE WORST. I once missed a summer fun outing because I was trapped on a work phone call when the boat left the dock. We weren’t allowed to miss the party and miss work so I had t go back to the office and work with just one other person for the rest of the afternoon.

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KellyK December 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Yeah, the one time we had a holiday party on a boat, I skipped it. I try to go to parties and make an appearance for a couple hours, both because it’s a nice gesture that the company does, and because I don’t *really* want to be a reclusive hermit. Except that if I’m trapped with coworkers for five hours, reclusive hermitude doesn’t sound so bad.

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LMW December 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm

I get horribly seasick, so no one wants me to come to the party on a boat.

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Chris80 December 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm

I don’t get seasick, but if anyone ever wants me to go to a work party on a boat, that’s the excuse I’m using.

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Arbynka December 13, 2013 at 12:44 pm

How about fear of pirates excuse ? :)

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Elysian December 13, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Yup yup yup. The only thing worse than being trapped on a boat with coworkers for hours is being trapped on a boat with coworkers while I hog the bathroom the whole night getting ill. Huzzah…!

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KellyK December 16, 2013 at 10:05 am

Ouch, I’m sorry. I tend to get motion sick pretty easily, but oddly enough, I’ve never been seasick. (I got motion sickness in a *flight simulator* for Pete’s sake–the thing didn’t even *go* anywhere.)

But that’s definitely another good reason to *not* have boat parties. Even if you have an office chock-full of extroverts who want to be there schmoozing and dancing the whole time, there’s still seasickness.

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BG December 13, 2013 at 1:42 pm

I once went on a company “summer outing” where we took a boat to an island to hang out for the day. Talk about not being able to escape…

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MissDisplaced December 13, 2013 at 2:08 pm

We had a boat Christmas party one afternoon and it was great! Of course I already was a boater myself, but no one got seasick and all had a good time.

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Tris Prior December 13, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Agreed! The best kind of work party is the kind that you can leave when you want, rather than being trapped on a boat with a bunch of drunk a-holes! When I had to do this, I had also just started my job and knew no one. I am not much of a drinker so it was excruciating to have to spend hours trapped on a boat with wasted people I didn’t know at all.

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Elizabeth West December 13, 2013 at 4:24 pm

At Horrible Nonprofit Job, I was forced to go on an employee outing to a steamboat that served a meal with a show. It was a thirty-minute charter bus ride away and it was during work hours. I was seriously depressed at the time and tried to get out of it–I even said I would stay and work at the office, but my boss told me I had to go.

It sucked and I will never do that again. I’ll call in sick first.

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Wren December 13, 2013 at 6:02 pm

What sucked about it?

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Elizabeth West December 14, 2013 at 3:46 pm

It was lame, the food was terrible, and I didn’t want to go in the first place. I would rather have just stayed in the office and worked. But they loaded the entire company on a charter bus and since I showed up that day, I was told I had to do it. That entire job sucked.

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AnonForThis December 13, 2013 at 11:11 am

To add to my recent work experience: don’t hold after-hours “team-building” activities, “recognition ceremonies”, AND holiday parties within 3 weeks of each other, and then get annoyed when people can’t make it to some of the events.

I manage a team with a lot of single parents. People MIGHT try to find a babysitter for 1 work-related unpaid evening thing. 3 in a month? Not so much. The number of snarky comments I got for my team’s “poor” attendance was incredibly annoying, since a) if this is mandatory, you need to pay people to be there, and b) people have lives and other commitments! Argh!

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AdAgencyChick December 13, 2013 at 11:30 am

HEAR HEAR! Good for you as their manager for understanding why they can’t do it.

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Chocolate Teapot December 13, 2013 at 11:13 am

Escape plans are a good thing in general. Our Christmas party was at a venue 25 minutes drive from the office and whilst transport was provided, it was at a fixed time. I can’t be the only person in the world who suffers from Taxi Meter shock!

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Anonymous December 13, 2013 at 11:14 am

Noooo to #2!! If no one is stuck covering the phones, what’s my excuse for not going to the party?

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Chris80 December 13, 2013 at 12:19 pm

+1 There are probably people who would rather cover the phones in a quiet office & catch up on work instead of going to the holiday party. However, it should never be mandatory for someone to do that – willing volunteers only!

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Elizabeth West December 13, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I had to do it every single time we had a potluck at Exjob. I just let my backup get food first, then I went and got mine while he babysat the phone. Our Christmas party was offsite and in the evening.

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Cat December 13, 2013 at 11:17 am

I actually like how our office does it – it’s after hours but entirely non-mandatory. However, it’s held in the office and everyone’s families, including children, are invited; we also invite former employees and other “friends of the firm” (like the people who have sublet offices from us over the years). It means you get to catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while, and it also means that if the adults becoming too stultifying, you can play with the small children instead.

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BCW December 13, 2013 at 11:32 am

See, I would hate if my office party allowed people to bring their kids. To be clear, I like children, however I think a work party is an “adult” party, and I really wouldn’t want little kids running around.

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Ruffingit December 13, 2013 at 11:34 am

Same. Not a fan of kids running around the office party.

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Cat December 13, 2013 at 11:37 am

I kind of feel like it’s only an adult party if you define it as an adult party, I guess.

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Jax December 13, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Exactly.

My dad worked at a power plant (super blue color job complete with shift work) and I loved his company Christmas party because I could go. The company rented out a hall, served a buffet, and had the best Santa ever (he had a real beard!!!) My sister and I would go home with huge stocking stuffed with toys. But that was 20 years ago, and the employees were mostly family men.

Now I’m working in an office full of 20 somethings who want an adult party so they can get spray tanned, show off their LBDs, and get drunk with co-workers. Completely different world.

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VintageLydia December 13, 2013 at 12:37 pm

My step-mom’s office holiday parties were the BEST! There was a santa and presents and treats! I was definitely family friendly.

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LMW December 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I don’t even have kids and that sounds so much more fun than drunk coworkers

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Cat December 13, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Yeah, I don’t have kids either, but man, a lot of them are way more fun than drunk co-workers.

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TheSnarkyB December 13, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Ugh this is all nonsense, you guys. Obviously the best plan is a holiday party with drunk little kids. How am I the only one who gets this? C’mon! Put ‘em in little elf costumes? Best work party ever.

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Pseudo Annie Nym December 13, 2013 at 9:03 pm

HAHAHA! The only problem is that those little elves can’t hold their liquor, then you have peppermint-scented schnapps puke all over the office.

Andrea December 13, 2013 at 11:43 am

Agreed. Kids do not belong at work parties. Office parties are supposed to be for the people working there and (in theory, at least) designed so that people who actually work there can have a good time. They aren’t supposed to be for kids.

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Cat December 13, 2013 at 11:44 am

Out of curiosity, do people have the same objection to a summer potluck where families are invited? If not, why is a holiday party different?

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BCW December 13, 2013 at 11:50 am

I’ve never been somewhere with a summer potluck. My companies have had summer outings like boat trips, baseball games, etc. Alcohol was served. And yes, I would feel the same way about kids attending in those situations.

Now I know some companies have company picnic’s, which are designed to be family events, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I’d probably make an appearance and leave after an hour or so.

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Ruffingit December 13, 2013 at 11:50 am

For me, a lot of it depends on venue. Holiday parties held in the office mean that your computers, your work files, etc. can be within reach of little hands especially if their parents don’t watch them closely. Kids get easily restless and it can just be a big hassle to have them running around the office.

Summer potlucks, in my experience, have been held outside where people have a lot of room to walk around, there are games set up to play such as volleyball or horseshoes or whatever.

Beyond that though, there are also times where you just want to relax at the holiday party and not hear the shrieks and cries that are inevitable with children who are hopped up on sugar and excited to be somewhere different.

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Cat December 13, 2013 at 11:54 am

I feel you on the files, but we have individual offices and close the doors and everything else is kept in locking file drawers for confidentiality reasons, so that ends up not being an issue.

Otherwise, well . . . to be honest, I’d rather deal with shrieking children (which tends not to be an issue; parents are pretty good at taking kids who are reaching their limit out, IMO) then wasted co-workers, and we get fewer of the latter at our parties, in my experience!

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Andrea December 13, 2013 at 11:51 am

I personally wouldn’t want to attend either if folks are bringing their kids. Either it’s a company event and a networking opportunity or it’s a kid-friendly thing, and since I don’t need to network with any kids…

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Cat December 13, 2013 at 11:54 am

That is fair. This isn’t mandatory and plenty of people choose not to come with no repercussions. But a lot of us like meeting our co-workers’ families and don’t really view it as a networking opportunity.

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Lillie Lane December 13, 2013 at 11:56 am

My boss’s kids are total brats. And the only brats I want to see at a potluck are those in a bun. So I have an objection to seeing them anywhere…but at least at a summer potluck, they can run around and scream outside. In December, they run around and scream in the building, which echoes in the stairwells and is obnoxious.

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Elle D December 13, 2013 at 1:43 pm

My company does it this way (adults holiday party, family summer picnic) and I really appreciate that.

I’m a single 20-something with no kids, and have a great time at my company’s employees-only holiday party year after year. It’s held during work hours and there’s no pressure to attend or stay the whole time, so those who don’t enjoy socializing with co-workers are free to go home anytime after the party starts. I appreciate the more adult atmosphere and like getting to mingle with employees from other departments who I don’t interact with much during the year. I think kids would change that dynamic tremendously, so I’m personally glad that they aren’t included in this event.

The summer picnic tends to skew more towards families with children. There’s a lot of “family activities” – games, face painting, crafts, etc. The one time I attended, I personally felt like there wasn’t much for me to do and left early. There are many employees, both with kids and without, who have a fantastic time and attend year after year, so even though it’s not for me I’m glad this event is held. I opted out this year but there was no pressure to attend and everyone I spoke to understood why I skipped it.

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tcookson December 13, 2013 at 6:30 pm

My husband’s company has two holiday parties: one on Saturday morning at a local go-cart/laser-tag/video-games place for the families, and one on Saturday evening at a local hotel ballroom for the adults (with dinner, drinks, a comedian, and door prizes).

The only bad thing is that the best door prizes always end up going to the upper management, and that can NOT be a coincidence every. single. year.

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KellyK December 13, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Yeah, I don’t think it’d be appropriate to invite kids to the type of parties most companies do for Christmas. Not that they’re booze-fests or anything, but formal attire and wine and whatnot don’t say “kid-friendly” to me.

That said, if people don’t attend because of childcare issues, having a kids’ area that’s separate from the main party might be a nice gesture.

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Cat December 13, 2013 at 1:23 pm

And I think once you invite kids, you’re no longer talking booze and formal attire – it’s just a different kind of party.

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KellyK December 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Also true. Nothing says Christmas *has* to be an adults only party—the work Christmas parties I’ve been to just have tended to fall that way.

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Kelly O December 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Totally agree with you Cat.

And I think, really, the offices that might consider the family friendly party are probably going to be clear on that from the get-go (and you might find the corporate culture a little different as a whole.)

Now, I will add that as the parent of an adorable three year old, I appreciate the opportunity to have grown up conversations that don’t involve asking if someone has to go to the potty every ten minutes.

I did work at one office that provided childcare during the adult party after-hours, which was really nice. The kids got Santa, cookies, and a “marathon” of Christmas things like the Grinch, Charlie Brown, and some Rankin-Bass. The adults got to sit down to a nice dinner and not have to worry about finding a sitter during the holidays (which is not always easy.)

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Lindsay J December 15, 2013 at 1:02 am

This is really nice, and more companies should do that.

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KellyK December 16, 2013 at 10:08 am

That’s a really nice idea!

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Felicia December 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm

I used to love my mom’s Christmas parties every year when i was a kid, that company always invited kids, but then there were like games and toys and santa too. i think not all companies do the Christmas party as an adult party, and not all companies Christmas parties involve wine (and i’ve never been to one that required formal wear, and I’ve worked a few places, I feel left out!) I think neither is better or worse than the other and neither totally seems the norm, it just seems to depend where you work.

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Bea W December 13, 2013 at 8:21 pm

One of my old jobs ran a split party – the main one for adults with a DJ, free beer and wine, and a fancy buffet with foods kids would frown at, and one simultaneously in another part of the building for kids where they’d play games, gets foods kids like, and a visit from Santa who would have a gift for each child.

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Elizabeth West December 13, 2013 at 4:27 pm

If it is a specified activity for families, like a picnic or a trip to the local Extremely Loud Pizza / Game Joint, then kids are fine. If not, then just the grown-ups.

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Cat December 13, 2013 at 4:35 pm

But you can also have a specified “holiday party for families.” I mean, you can debate whether that’s the best approach, but it is a thing.

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Cat December 13, 2013 at 4:37 pm

(I got to say, I don’t have kids, but I guess I personally am glad I get to meet my co-workers’ kids at events like these which are designed for everyone and not just for kids/families. They’re an important part of the lives of people with whom I spend a lot of time; it’s nice to be able to meet people who I hear so much about, much like it’s nice to be able to meet the SOs of co-workers at holiday parties.)

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Elizabeth West December 14, 2013 at 3:48 pm

I never went to Exjob’s family pizza party–my predecessor (who eventually became my boss) told me if I showed up, I would be expected to WORK at the party! I don’t have any kids, and the pizza place is pretty obnoxious (with terrible pizza too).

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Anonymous December 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm

I think this is similar to weddings in that it’s only an “adult” party if that’s what you want it to be. (Not that there’s anything wrong with having an adult party – I tend to prefer those myself).

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Bea W December 13, 2013 at 8:17 pm

I worked at a place that encouraged kids to come to the party, but they arranged a separate space for them away from the adults with special activities, their own dinner, and a visit from Santa, so they spent most of the time there rather than running around, and the parents were free to have adult chats because they didn’t have to worry about keeping track of their kids at a party. The official party started at 4 PM and went until about 11 PM, so it was essentially free baby sitting so employees with young children could stay and enjoy the party. Kids would at times come out to dance after dinner or ride the glass elevator (usually with an adult), but mostly they seemed happy to stay out of the noisy crowded adult space.

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Kat A. December 13, 2013 at 11:29 pm

Cat,
My dad’s office used to have parties like that and they were great. Some of us kids actually bonded over the years.

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Joey December 13, 2013 at 11:18 am

See I sorta disagree with not allowing employees to pay. I’ve been in companies where there was no budget (I mean none) and employees didn’t care- they wanted a party. All we could provide was the location, work hours and whatever managers wanted to chip in out of their own pockets. In this case employees volunteered enough money for catering, a bar, music and decorations. It was quite nice considering the alternative was no party.

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Cat December 13, 2013 at 11:19 am

I think government offices tend to do that as well; most of the government folks I know enjoy their office parties and are happy to chip in for them (or bring food for a potluck).

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some1 December 13, 2013 at 11:22 am

When I worked for a municipal govt, there was actually a law on the books that the govt could not buy food for employees for any meal.

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De Minimis December 13, 2013 at 11:32 am

Similar rule at the federal level, trainings/meetings can’t include lunch [at least officially], and technically people on travel status are supposed to report any complimentary meals they receive, be it a free continental breakfast at the hotel or a non-government sponsored training that includes meals, because their per-diem needs to be adjusted, but in reality few do this.

The key word is “officially…” I’ve attended meetings where the organizers contributed their own money to provide food and/or snacks [usually when there are important outside people in attendance.] Managers also buy their departments lunch on occasion, and of course potlucks are common. Our facility as a whole also has a “club” that handles holiday gatherings, employees pay so much a year and the money is put toward catering and other group events. Since it’s not official, it’s okay to do.

It’s a good way for us to be able to have celebrations and gatherings the way the private sector does, and still be within the rules.

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veggie December 13, 2013 at 12:24 pm

And it’s fun to have to adjust your per diem when you didn’t eat the meal provided because of lack of vegetarian option.

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VintageLydia December 13, 2013 at 12:36 pm

What is with companies never providing a vegetarian option? Or something that appears vegetarian but you find out it’s made with chicken broth or something :/ I’m not even vegetarian–I’ll eat near anything you place in front of me–but I come from a long line of hostesses and you provide for your guests by golly!

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veggie December 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm

When it happened to me at a work thing, I actually asked in advance and was told to not expect to be accommodated. So at least I was prepared with granola bars (that I paid for myself).

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De Minimis December 13, 2013 at 12:44 pm

My wife has been vegetarian for years and I don’t know how many times she had to refuse meals provided at work because they had meat. And we lived in a place that was relatively metropolitan to where people should have been aware that there should be a vegetarian option.

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KellyK December 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Absolutely. If you’re feeding people, you need to feed them things they can eat.

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Vee December 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm

“made with chicken broth”

At one of our holiday parties, I had several people pressuring me to eat something that was “vegetarian” and had a chicken broth-based sauce. Because “broth isn’t actually the same as having meat.”

Oh. Thanks for that information.

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LPBB December 13, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Ha ha! I used to be a vegetarian, so I feel your pain.

Several years ago, I attended the wedding of a co-worker of my then-boyfriend that was an ordeal for many reasons (it was on a boat, for one thing), but there was only one entree served. Foolishly, I didn’t eat before-hand like usual, because I figured I would just eat the salad and the sides.

Until they brought the entrees out which turned out to be a chicken dinner with gravy slopped over everything! My dinner roll was drowning in the gravy, as were the mashed potatoes and green beans. Essentially I couldn’t eat a thing. (I think I ate the top half of the dinner roll that hadn’t been covered in gravy). I spent the rest of the night being pressured by the wife of another coworker of my then-boyfriend to eat my dinner. She never quite understood that gravy made from chicken parts/stock is actually the same thing as chicken to a vegetarian! And that chicken actually is meat!

I already intensely disliked that woman, so I spent most of the wedding reception on the deck talking to the smokers and looking at the scenery.

tcookson December 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm

My husband and I were vegan for one year (a long time ago), and while we were doing that his mom made a crock pot of soup that she described as “vegetarian, except for the sausage.” That still cracks us up, and we use it around the house all the time now: “this bacon is vegetarian, except for the bacon . . . “.

LMW December 13, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Yes! And if it’s a buffet or something, make sure there’s enough that some will actually be left for the vegetarians (I’m in meat-happy Milwaukee and the vegetarian options are ALWAYS the first to go).
Lately at company functions I’ve been finding bacon in my “vegetarian” meals so now I just go hungry most of the time.

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VintageLydia December 13, 2013 at 1:13 pm

That’s why when I host dinners where I know there will be vegetarians, ALL side dishes are vegetarian and make a pretty filling meal by themselves. It’s not that hard. I don’t have very many good vegan recipes, but I only know one vegan and she lives so far away (4 hours) so it’s not something I’ve had to worry about yet.

KellyK December 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Wait a sec. Did you lose out on per diem because you were provided a meal you couldn’t actually eat? That’s messed up.

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veggie December 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm

I was told to subtract the meal from my reimbursement, and I didn’t feel like arguing. I mean, I did eat some fruit salad to avoid seeming rude to our hosts by declining their hospitality.

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Joey December 13, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Wait. I would think you would eat the vegetarian items and not the meat products. I’m thinking something like “could you just give me the veggies and potatoes and hold the steak?”

Does that not work? Forgive me if that’s a dumb question.

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VintageLydia December 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Bacon and meat based broths are in more things than you think. Or it’s something like sandwiches so you’re left with two pieces of bread (with bonus meat flavoring!) and a small bag of chips for lunch.

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Joey December 13, 2013 at 1:27 pm

It’s very confusing to me. You’d eat bread….that’s frequently made with eggs or shortening.

VintageLydia December 13, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Shortening is vegetable based IIRC, and eggs are often considered vegetarian (it depends on the individual but the only people I know who don’t eat eggs are actually vegan–same with butter and other dairy products.) The point is it’s not a meal. It’s barely a snack.

Ask a Manager December 13, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Vegetarian = no animal flesh or products made from animal flesh (like broth made from chicken)
Vegan = no flesh or any other animal product (dairy, eggs, and usually honey)

Cat December 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Also, bread usually isn’t made with eggs or shortening. It usually just has flour, water, yeast, and salt. There are exceptions, but that’s the basic recipe; most is vegan.

Elizabeth West December 13, 2013 at 6:55 pm

I could be vegetarian, but I could never be vegan. I love honey too much.

Bea W December 13, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Vegan also extends to anything made with any animal products at all, not just obvious animal products like eggs and dairy. Animal based products are pretty much everywhere – whey, casein, gelatin, foods cook with animal fats. Even sugar isn’t necessarily vegan because the most sugar is processed using bone char.

Vegetable soup is commonly made with chicken stock. So while it sure sounds vegetarian friendly, you really have to be careful and ask what kind of broth was used to make it.

Bea W December 13, 2013 at 8:46 pm

I worked on a government contract for many years. We had big meetings 2 or 3 times a year, which my office organized and we were not permitted to provide lunch unless people paid for it out of pocket. For some reason, we were able to provide breakfast and snacks, and that was built into the meeting budget, but no lunch or dinner.

At the end of the study at the last meeting, people wanted to throw a big party with dinner and drinks and were more than willing to pay. So we arranged it with the hotel on a separate bill, and my boss personally collected all the money. It wasn’t cheap either, but everyone knew the cost up front and wanted to do it, and some (or maybe all) of the MDs paid not only for themselves but for their staff.

I work in the private sector now, and although we can pay for these things, there are all kind of rules around documenting any function where a meal is served to outside people, even down to having to keep a list of everyone who eats.

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Spunky December 13, 2013 at 11:53 am

I currently work for municipal government and I am alarmed/offended by the amount of money that is spent on food and give aways for employees for meetings, trainings etc. It’s so wasteful and I’m not sure how it’s allowed. The employees are so entitled to this crap as well.

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Joey December 13, 2013 at 12:54 pm

All it takes is an anonymous citizen making a public records request and forwarding it to your local news station and that’ll put an end to that. (Hint, hint)

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Zahra December 13, 2013 at 11:23 am

I think the key here is that management made it clear they had no money for the party and were not organizing one, although they were also clear on what they could provide should someone decide to organize a party.

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Ruffingit December 13, 2013 at 11:38 am

Yes, this. It’s fine if people take it upon themselves to pitch in some cash for a party, it’s when the company requires it that it becomes a problem in my eyes.

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Just a Reader December 13, 2013 at 11:55 am

Yep. My sister’s holiday party is mandatory, costs $50 a head and for some requires air travel and hotel. The employees are expected to pay all costs including their $50 entry ticket.

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Joey December 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm

I wonder what happens when someone says they can’t afford to go.

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Ruffingit December 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Wow. Airfare and hotel?? That is shitty beyond words.

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doreen December 13, 2013 at 11:36 am

And in my case in addition to the in-office parties, employees often organize and sell tickets for parties at outside venues. Becasue while we can certainly have a potluck or even a catered lunch in the office , we cannot have an open bar and dancing in a government office.

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Cath@VWXYNot? December 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I agree with Joey. I work in a public sector academic cancer research facility that’s funded mostly through research grants. Alcohol and even food for staff are (quite rightly) not eligible expenses on any of our accounts, with the exception of sandwiches at meetings that last more than 5 hours with external participants present. We can’t even buy coffee for meetings that don’t meet these criteria. So if we didn’t pay for ourselves, there would be no party. This year’s was $25 a head for canapes and one drink ticket each at a local bar – but a) it’s always really fun, b) there are decent door prizes, and c) there are absolutely no repercussions at all for not attending.

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Cath@VWXYNot? December 13, 2013 at 1:13 pm

I should add that the door prizes are from vendors and some of the managers – not from taxpayer or donor dollars :)

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KellyK December 13, 2013 at 2:06 pm

That’s totally reasonable. I think there’s a difference between not allowing people to pay and requiring them to pay. If you don’t have the budget for it, or there are rules preventing you from spending money on it, sure, let people pay on their own if they want. (Though once it starts costing money, it needs to be 100%, really truly optional.)

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Michele December 13, 2013 at 11:19 am

This was my first Christmas party at my company and it was really fun. We are small (18 people) and it was a lovely sit down dinner and secret santa’s. 2 of our salesmen dressed up as Santa and Mrs Claus and handed out all the gifts. While most of the gifts were silly everyone loved what they received. We all left with a smile on our face!

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some1 December 13, 2013 at 11:20 am

The exception to #5 is public sector or government employers. I used to work for the govt and I can’t imagine taxpayers would have been happy about an employer-paid party, even for the holidays.

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Katie the Fed December 13, 2013 at 11:25 am

we usually do it either potluck style or sell tickets for a few bucks. We also get special approval to bring in alcohol, so we’ll sell tickets for beer/wine for like $5-6 each, and the proceeds from that fund the rest of the party. Usually managers kick in a bit too, which I don’t mind at all. I’d rather throw in $50 than have my staff have to buy tickets.

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Anon Accountant December 13, 2013 at 11:23 am

I have a question about clients being invited to holiday parties. My firm invites some of their largest clients to the annual holiday party which is held in the evening hours. These are clients that have businesses that operate in multiple states, are well known names in our small town, are active in local politics, etc.

What do you think about this practice of inviting clients to the company holiday party?

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Sophia December 13, 2013 at 11:29 am

Make sure there are no rideable lawnmowers! (Mad Men reference, sorry, couldn’t resist :) )

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AdAgencyChick December 13, 2013 at 11:31 am

HAHAHAHAHA!

We once had a client at a Yankee swap (thank goodness, I haven’t had one at a holiday party yet), and even that was super awkward.

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KLH December 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm

And that the biggest drug dealer in Chicago is not attending at the same time as the governor! (The Good Wife )

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AF December 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Yes! Although after seeing the photo Alison posted, I would DEFINITELY go to any holiday party if Jon Hamm was there :)

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ellex42 December 13, 2013 at 11:40 am

It depends on the type of business, the type of clients, and the type of party. My boss invited clients last year (we mostly contract to huge firms that are out of state, so there’s usually no one to invite on a practical basis, and we’re a tiny, tiny business) and they said it was the best party they’d ever been to!

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Ruffingit December 13, 2013 at 11:43 am

It depends on a lot of factors. I attended a company holiday party once for Company X whose client was Company Y. Company Y’s rep (John) was dating his client contact from Company X (Jane) so John was Jane’s date to the annual Christmas party for Company X. At the party, Company X maligned one of their previous employees who everyone had hated. They talked for hours that evening about how glad they were he was gone, etc. A couple of months later he was hired back (which is so bizarre, but speaks to the dysfunction of Company X to begin with) and ended up doing work for Company Y.

I thought it was horrendously unprofessional for Company X to be talking badly in front of a client about an employee they fired to begin with, but then when the employee was hired back on and was working with Company Y, it got even worse since John from Company Y now knows all the dirt and bitterness surrounding that employee. Just totally unprofessional all -around.

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LD December 13, 2013 at 1:48 pm

If it’s advertised to all and everyone understands it is for clients and for employees, I don’t see a problem. Often when clients get included it means the company is willing to spend enough to make the event a little more special. The costs may even be mitigated by including clients and deducting some as a business promotion expense, so employees get the benefit of a better party. Might not be appropriate or reasonable for all organizations or situations, but I’m familiar with a few where that worked out very well.

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Anon Accountant December 13, 2013 at 11:27 am

1 of the best parties we had was where all the employees (there were less than 15 of us) went to a fancy restaurant for a late lunch and had the entire afternoon off with full pay. The boss and his wife gave us gift certificates to a local grocery store in a very generous amount plus a poinsettia and box of candy.

The company picked up the entire cost of the party and it was fun.

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Judy December 13, 2013 at 11:56 am

Yes, for me the best work parties are lunches that may have an activity with them, but about 2-3pm you were done. One year we went for pizza and bowling, another we ate at a pub and played darts and pool. In the summer we had a catered picnic and played sand volleyball at the park.

The year the party started at 2, at an offsite location, and the bar was open then, but dinner wasn’t until 5:30 and we played washers until then, was not fun, some of the people on that team didn’t understand the “don’t get drunk at a company party” rule.

Free food plus some form of inter-mingling activity during work, then leave for the day early.

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Bea W December 13, 2013 at 9:12 pm

I worked for a company that liked to throw midday parties, but then expected employees to return to work for the last 2 hours of the day. That really sucked.

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AwesomeSauce December 13, 2013 at 11:29 am

My husband’s company is tonight. It is always at a nice restaurant with an open bar. Then the party usually moves to one of the many local bars and they open a tab there. Then the company pays for cabs for everyone to go home. It is totally not mandatory and it is a great time for everyone.

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Chocolate Teapot December 13, 2013 at 11:29 am

7. I was invited to a networking event as a member of an association and there was a tombola (one of those where you put your business card into a box).

When it was time for the drawing, it was announced to the entire room that the tombola was not open to members of the association, and their business cards were being removed from the draw. There was no mention of this on the box.

Still, there was a free buffet, and I liberated a quantity of promotional pens!

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Ruffingit December 13, 2013 at 11:45 am

I liberated a quantity of promotional pens!

LOL! Love the way you put that :)

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Kelley December 13, 2013 at 11:52 am

Liberated the pens, ha!

I had kind of the opposite experience. I was feeling under the weather and decided to skip the holiday party (my first, since I’m a relatively new hire). The next day a coworker stopped by to drop off a gift that I won in the raffle. I guess they put everyone’s name in automatically. It was a very pleasant surprise!

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ellex42 December 13, 2013 at 11:35 am

I love my boss. She holds a Christmas party every year on a Friday. We work a half day, but get paid for a full day. The party is held at her house (basically a McMansion). She books (and pays for) hotel rooms (at the Hilton this year, never at a motel) for those who have travel issues, since we have independent contractors, some of whom live several hours away. She provides limo service for anyone who wants it and so no one has to worry about drinking. The food is catered hors d’oeuvres which were fantastic last year (same firm this year). Attendance is absolutely not mandatory, but everyone comes if they can because it’s always a great time. Last year and the year before we had karaoke, which was lots of fun. Presents for the boss are not expected (we do anyways because she’s great and incredibly generous).

I fully expect to be there from around 5:30 to midnight or later and to have a great time.

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Joey December 13, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I hated parties at the owners house. It made me realize how much they’re actually making (bookoo) off of the rest of us peons. Id much rather not think about it.

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SevenSixOne December 13, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Me too. I had a boss who acted like she was doing the peons some great big favor by “allowing” them into her stupidly enormous McMansion

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Bea W December 13, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Also not a fan, because it just feels weird. The owners of one company I worked at did do this, but they had a ton a land and it was a big outdoor BBQ with tons of food and drink, games, entertainment. People could bring dogs and children. It was a long drive but people were allowed to pitch tents and camp on the property, and that was the biggest down side. It was a 2 hour drive in the middle of nowhere.

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ellex42 December 16, 2013 at 10:38 am

The McMansion was an investment. There are still renovations going on, and in a few years she intends to sell it for a profit. She’s also keeping the business going (we lost our main client and the industry has been slow this year) by flipping real estate. I’ve spent quite a bit of the last six months surfing the net and getting paid to do so while we wait for business to pick up again.

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Chris80 December 13, 2013 at 12:29 pm

I was with you until you put karaoke and fun in the same sentence – maybe with friends, but not at a work party.

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Bea W December 13, 2013 at 9:23 pm

There would have to be an open bar.

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ellex42 December 16, 2013 at 10:35 am

Happily, I am pretty friendly with my co-workers, and the bar is self-serve (bartender from two years ago was found wandering through the house rather than serving). I have to find out where my boss got the pomegranate liqueur, because that was delicious. The food was incredible.

And we did have a great time at this year’s party. About the only people in the group who can actually sing are myself and my brother, so we were encouraged to get up and sing several times.

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Lamington December 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm

This remind me of a party that the court staff got invited for a Big Law firm in the mansion of the main party, the invitation was an actual music box, they had tents outside with the best catering ever, a train for kids that will go around the grounds and Jon Bon Jovi as the entertainment for the night.

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Ask a Manager December 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm

I always wonder about this. If you’re Jon Bon Jovi, do you feel lame for playing this gig, or are you perfectly happy with it?

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Sarah December 13, 2013 at 6:52 pm

I would imagine you think of it kind of like a day job.

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Elizabeth West December 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Jesus GOD, why can’t I get invited to a party like that!?

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Chocolate Teapot December 14, 2013 at 2:54 am

Yes, I thought this was a paying-off-the-mortgage gig. Beyonce and the like always seem to get booked to perform special New Year’s Eve concerts somewhere exotic.

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Katie the Fed December 13, 2013 at 11:38 am

Oh, funny story about holiday parties in the government. At the Pentagon the parties often spill out into the hallways, so the Friday before Christmas people start going on leave it’s rather festive and fun.

In 2006, a Secretary of Defense who was, shall we say, not always the most popular, departed in mid-to-late December. The powers that be were worried that the Christmas festivities might turn into something a bit more celebratory due to the official’s departure so they basically put the kibosh on the holiday parties that day.

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Arbynka December 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm

That’s both hilarious and sad at the same time :)

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College Career Counselor December 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Similar story from early in my career–the end of the term party got a little more festive than usual since that was when we found out that a verbally abusive assistant dean on jury duty would be sequestered for TWO MONTHS for a mob trial.

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Ruffingit December 13, 2013 at 12:07 pm

HA! That is awesome :) THANK YOU SO MUCH JURY DUTY!

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fposte December 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Oh, that is hilarious. And I didn’t need to look anything up to know who you meant :-).

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ExceptionToTheRule December 13, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Well, I mean, there are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

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Katie the Fed December 13, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Freedom’s untidy.

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LucyVP December 13, 2013 at 11:42 am

#6!!!

This so much.

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400boyz December 13, 2013 at 11:47 am

My work group is going crazy now with all the parties. It used to be only birthdays and the company sponsored Christmas lunch and a summer company outing. Now it’s become Desk Trick Or Treating on Halloween, thanksgiving potluck, holidays yankee swap, company outing, birthdays, and who knows what else the party posse will add.

Of course, no one says it’s mandatory, but I just got slammed on my review for not attending enough of these.

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Yup December 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm

That would drive me up the wall and back down again.

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De Minimis December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm

I used to work someplace where bonuses were available each quarter, but you had to attend so many parties and other “connectivity events” in order to have a shot at it.

Ideally, it would have just been a reward for people who decide to attend a lot of outside activities, but I got a nasty phone call from HR for not doing any of them one quarter.

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Ruffingit December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Slammed on your review for not attending? That is total BS. There’s only so much time you can give to these parties unless the company is going to start paying you to attend AND they give you an allotment of some kind to buy the candy/gifts/food/whatever that you are undoubtedly expected to provide.

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Andrea December 13, 2013 at 11:49 am

Not only should there be door prizes, but there should be lots of good door prizes. Stuff people want, not coffee mugs with the company’s name on them or corporate crap that vendors give the company. My husband used to work in network administration at a large hospital system, and they had a policy that if vendors gifted any of them with anything, they couldn’t keep it and had to turn it in to the boss. Well, the boss kept all of that crap—t-shirts and pens and baseball caps and coffee mugs and mouse pads and magnets with the names of vendor companies on them—and then gave them away as door prizes at the holiday party. No one wanted any of that stuff.

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Ruffingit December 13, 2013 at 11:52 am

No. Just no. NO NO NO! Anything with vendor or company logos is not a gift. It should be nice gift cards or cool items people would actually want. Totally with you here.

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Bea W December 13, 2013 at 9:46 pm

My last job gave out cool gifts – electronics, gift certificates to nice restaurants, stuff that you wouldn’t just go out and buy on any given day.

Also, if you’re going to do door prizes, make it so people aren’t trapped into staying for the drawing.

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Chris December 13, 2013 at 1:24 pm

But I’ve gotten so much use from my company logo chip clip I won :P

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Jax December 13, 2013 at 2:12 pm

My company’s door prizes this year: $50 gift cards to stores, $50 cash, $100 cash, AND BONUS VACATION DAYS! About half of our employees walked away with something.

I was so thrilled that vacation days were door prizes. And then? The grand prize turned out to be AN EXTRA WEEK VACATION.

I love my company. I didn’t even win that grand prize, and I still love them.

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Arbynka December 13, 2013 at 11:49 am

You can escape a boat party. I mean depending on how cold the water is, how good of a swimmer you are and how far from the shore the boat is :)

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Arbynka December 13, 2013 at 11:51 am

And speaking of boat party escapes – Arrested Development anyone ?

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Trillian December 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I recommend bringing along an inflatable kayak.

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Anne December 13, 2013 at 11:54 am

#4 made me giggle a little bit.

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Evan December 13, 2013 at 11:54 am

Guess what’s happening this afternoon? We’re not having a party this year, but we’re having a “holiday mixer.” During work hours; no repercussions for absences; not on a boat; no fee. I’m planning to show up for at least an hour or so and see how fun it is.

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Arbynka December 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Holiday mixer, sounds interesting. Let us know how it turns out.

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Evan December 14, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Follow-up: It was really low-key. There was a buffet line of snacks in a spare meeting room, some small round tables we could stand around, and a lot of floor space for mingling. (There was also a table with beer and wine, but I didn’t care to try that.) Some recorded Christmas music was playing in the background.

I stayed a little over an hour and had fun talking to my coworkers, bosses, and several people from other departments that I hadn’t seen before. A more full holiday party might be nice sometime, and I think we’ll get it next year – this’s my first year here, but I heard we had a bigger party last time. Still, after reading all the bad things that can happen… I’m relieved just to be able to have fun snacking and talking!

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anonymous December 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm

As someone who is in the midst of planning a Christmas Party (completely by myself, I might add), that you thank the person that organized, planned, booked and made arrangement for everyone and everything. It is extremely time consuming and a lot to plan (ours isn’t even that big, only 52 people total).

I’ve put a lot of work into this flippin’ party and with only a few hours to go, I have people calling and come to me asking to be moved because they don’t like where they’ll sit, or they have to leave early or might not make it because they forgot to arrange for a babysitter. I even have managers coming up to me, demanding last minute changes.

Please, just thank the party organizer (not just the big bosses).

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KellyK December 16, 2013 at 10:20 am

Thank you for the reminder. I just emailed the person who organized ours to tell her “thank you.”

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Diet Coke Addict December 13, 2013 at 12:01 pm

I have a sinking suspicion at my new job this year. We have 6 employees including the boss, plus a seventh occasional worker, and the boss’s wife. All of whom are included in the Secret Santa. Also there is allegedly going to be a holiday party, but no one has heard when, or where, and the discussion has been that it will probably be potluck during our unpaid lunch hour before returning to work. It is not encouraging!

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Arbynka December 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Sounds like you are having Secret Party as well :)

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Diet Coke Addict December 13, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Secret party indeed! I’m going to be a bit frustrated if my boss announces a potluck for the following day. I like to cook and bake, but I need more than one day’s notice unless everyone wants me to bring my last-minute specialty of Kraft Dinner with cut-up hotdogs.

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Anon December 13, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Also, make it so singles can enjoy the party, too! At my job, we had so many clues to “bring your significant other”, that when I showed up by myself because I dating NO ONE, on a weekend holiday retreat, I felt so uncomfortable and left out and embarrassed because I was left to “watch my boss’s kids” while everyone else went out to a couples’ dinner because I was “the only one available.” I’m reiterating this word-for-word, no joke.

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Lillie Lane December 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm

That’s ridiculous.

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VintageLydia December 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Wow rude. What would they have done if you DID bring a date? Ugh rude rude rude.

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Windchime December 13, 2013 at 12:25 pm

This is horrible; worse than being left at the office to cover the phones!

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Arbynka December 13, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Yes. Downright crapy.

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Laura December 13, 2013 at 1:24 pm

That’s pretty shitty. I think I would have had an emergency right about then.

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LD December 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I would have been tempted to charge for babysitting services. $10 per hour for one child. $25 per hour for two. $50 per hour for three, and so on. (The more kids, the more complicated it is to watch them.)

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Trillian December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Hold during work hours maybe, but NOT at the workplace. Trying to get a day’s work done in half a day – so I don’t have to work after the party – while the party setup rages on around me, makes me say bah, humbug to the whole thing. I’m liable to stay at my desk while everyone’s at the party, for the peace.

I’d rather have events in boats than overcrowded, overheated stuffy rooms where conversations are competing (hopelessly) with the music, though I do draw the line at waves breaking over the upper deck.

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ThursdaysGeek December 13, 2013 at 1:16 pm

My neighbor attended a boat dinner, I don’t recall if it was a company party or some other event. Shortly after her lobster dinner was served, the boat shook itself in a wave, and her dinner and the one next to hers went overboard. This wasn’t a boat that was big enough to have cooking facilities or extra meals, so they simply didn’t get any dinner. So, stuck on a boat and with no food while others around you eat theirs — fun!

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Jen in RO December 13, 2013 at 12:19 pm

I’m posting from the office holiday party… and next year I’ll probably give it a miss. We had some snacks for everyone, but it’s mostly for the kids… which means a lot of running and yelling and crying, and I don’t have kids and don’t particularly like them either.

We had a Secret Santa which was fun, though, I hope we do it next year too.

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Jen in RO December 14, 2013 at 3:47 am

Oh, and I am also going to my ex-company’s Christmas party, which will be way more fun. It’s got a 1920s theme (I managed to borrow a flapper dress from a friend. yay!), it’s going to be in bar with drinks and food paid for by the company, and I will get to see my ex-coworkers again!

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Amber (the Canadian girl) December 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Well I work in a store and obviously we couldn’t just close the store during the party, but we had it at a venue in the shopping part of town (about a 5-10 minute drive from the store, depending on traffic), and while some people had to work, plenty of people came after their shifts ended or before their shifts started, etc. I was off that day so didn’t need to worry. :) A lot of people went but certainly not everyone.

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VintageLydia December 13, 2013 at 12:31 pm

When I worked retail our party was usually Sunday evening after close of business at a mid-range restaurant. Until the last year when it was catered food in the break room which was awful and included no vegetarian options. I worked at a pet supply store and vegetarians and vegans are represented at much higher ratios among animal lovers. Unfortunately our store management team had no say in this though I have no idea what corporate was thinking. I get cutting costs by not doing restaurant parties, but you need to think about what food you’re serving and to whom!

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Al Lo December 13, 2013 at 5:19 pm

When I worked at Starbucks, each store got a certain amount from corporate for a Christmas party (often held in January after the holiday rush was over), and it also included having employees from other stores cover the store for that time period so that everyone was available. I don’t know that I ever went — I remember things like bowling or other group activities — but I did appreciate that Starbucks had the flexibility to have stores covered when necessary.

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VintageLydia December 13, 2013 at 12:26 pm

My husband’s holiday party is tomorrow. This is the first time we’re going so I don’t know what to expect, but I’ve been to a few family picnics and stuff so I’m optimistic (usually open bar, taxis provided, good food.) I’m just excited for an evening with adults WITHOUT the kid. (And I guess it would be weird for me as a spouse to be excited about an office holiday party, but his coworkers are all nice and friendly and so are their spouses.)

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Jen in RO December 14, 2013 at 2:23 am

My boyfriend’s holiday parties are employees only, but i would also get excited if I could go. I’ve met a lot of his co-workers and they’re fun!

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Windchime December 13, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Our small department party for our workgroup will be at a restaurant for a lunch, paid by the company. No gift exchange. The party starts at 1 PM and the boss says that there is no need to return to the office after. So yay!

The larger department party is a catered lunch in a big conference room during work hours. There are door prizes and typically there is WII bowling for those who wish to play. These are usually kind of fun. We do return to our desks, but it’s a relaxed thing and people just kind of drift in and out of the party for the couple of hours when it’s going on.

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Laura December 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Our holiday party this year is being planned by one of my coworkers. He was given a budget guideline by corporate and then told, “But no fancy dinners with spouses.”

…the budget guideline doesn’t allow for that, but I’m still baffled why it’s explicitly off the table if he could find a way to swing it within the budget. (Also, I don’t think we’ve *ever* done a fancy dinner with spouses invited, so that’s doubly baffling why they’d think we would. A bowling alley is a more probable venue. Which is also somewhat awkward, but so it goes.)

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Bea W December 13, 2013 at 1:05 pm

#4 – I LOVE parties on a boat, although it is better if it’s warm out and you can enjoy being on deck. It might not be so great in winter cold. Last boat party I was on, we idled at the end of the runway and watched planes land. Awesome.

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B December 13, 2013 at 1:09 pm

#6 – Not necessarily. There are actually some very nice chanukah ornaments to put on the tree. I would say if you have a tree, having a menorah is a nice touch as well

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VintageLydia December 13, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Considering AAM is Jewish, I’d differ to her opinion on that topic.

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B December 14, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Considering I am Jewish, I am offering another opinion on the subject. Obviously opinions differ on this especially because I know observant Jews who do not find this offensive. Perhaps it is a matter of knowing your office or just put up nice lights and leave it at that so as not to offend anyone.

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Ask a Manager December 13, 2013 at 1:20 pm

I’ll just quote what I said when someone asked about this in the comments on the original post (rather than writing it out again):

To observant Jews, it’s offensive to have Jewish religious symbols tacked on to a religious symbol from a different faith. It would be like hanging a star of David from a crucifix, or putting a Jesus sticker on the Koran. (I’m sure that some non-observant Jews may not care at all … although I’m an example of a non-observant Jew who would be irked by it.)

I also think it’s kind of lame when companies put up Hanukkah decorations in an effort to give “equal time.” Hanukkah isn’t a major holiday like Christmas is, and it always comes across (to me) as forced and unknowledgeable, and a little condescending. (I’m not saying everyone feels like me though; I’m sure there are plenty of Jews who are glad to see it.)

As a side note: Personally (and again I’m SO not speaking for all Jews here), I’m perfectly happy to get to bask in all all the Christmasy cheer and to get a day off in which I don’t have any holiday obligations. You really don’t need to try to make me feel like my holiday is included. It would be like if I were attending your 25th anniversary party and you took time out to make a big announcement about how I was on my fifth date with someone. Christmas and Hanukkah are just not on the same scale, and I find it kind of embarrassing for everyone when Christians try to act like they are. Again, just representing myself here, not giving you guidance on Jews as a whole.

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Laura December 13, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I had a boss who decorated for Christmas and then offered to bring in blue and silver ornaments and “Hanukkah towels” for the Jewish employees to put on/under the tree.

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JCDC December 13, 2013 at 1:40 pm

+1 to the last two paragraphs! Exactly! It almost bothers me more when there is this uninformed, half-hearted attempt to include Hanukkah — rather than just having a Christmas party and understanding that not everyone celebrates the holiday. I’m also not especially observant, but that’s my opinion too.

(That said, interfaith ornaments are now a thing and I must admit that I rather like them. But I certainly wouldn’t suggest them for an office holiday party when you may have wide variations in degrees of observance.)

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Marmite December 13, 2013 at 1:59 pm

A friend of mine works for a charity that has it’s parent organisation (whom they work closely with) in Israel. She works in a small satellite office in the UK, which employs about a dozen people, eleven of whom are Jewish. The other employee is Christian, so her office does full-on Hanukkah (including a couple of days where the office is closed) and then a sort half-hearted gesture towards Christmas. The office stays open on Christmas day but they put up a few random decorations.

My friend says it always seems a bit awkward – like pointing at the lone Christian employee and saying “Hey, you’re different, here’s a string of angel shaped fairy lights to highlight that fact!”

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Jo March December 13, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Non-observant Jew with a non-observant Christian partner here. And we HUNT for Hanukkah ornaments for our Chrismukkah tree! So opinions on this definitely vary, lol.

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Ask a Manager December 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Yep, opinions differ — but enough people are bothered by it (and certainly the vast majority of observant Jews would be) that offices really shouldn’t do it.

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Arbynka December 13, 2013 at 3:43 pm

My friend observant Christian married to observant Jew does that for their Christmas tree. I find it cool but – it is between them and they both agreed to it. I think it is not appropriate thing for office to do. As Alison pointed out, many observant Jews are bothered by it and I can understand why they would be.

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Marmite December 13, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Chrismukkah always makes “California, here we COOOOOOME….” play in my head!

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Anonymous December 13, 2013 at 7:26 pm

+1 It feels forced to me too. I’m not super observant either and, while I appreciate the effort, I’m not a big fan. I do know many Orthodox Jews and know they would be very offended by it. An LED light Menorah (Hanukkah candelabra) next too the tree, alright. But not ON the tree.

A 1,000 brownie points to Alison for including a Mad Men pic.

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Confused December 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Oops, my name didn’t show up :/

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Anonymous December 13, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Am I the only one going around asking people to remove menorahs? I mean, Hanukkah ended several weeks ago, so the token attempt to be ecumenical at Christmas is just insulting.

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Lindsay December 13, 2013 at 9:36 pm

I totally agree with AAM! I am Jewish, although not particularly observant. I find it offensive that people think so little of Judaism that celebrating Hanukkah is achieved by putting a symbol of Hanukkah on a Christmas tree. If you don’t care about Hanukkah, that’s fine, its not a major holiday. But don’t pretend to acknowledge it by putting up an ornament.

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fposte December 13, 2013 at 1:32 pm

It’d be especially weird to have a menorah out this year given that Hanukkah’s been over for a week.

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Sharm December 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm

It all depends on the company, doesn’t it? At my previous (wonderful!) job, we had a Christmas party during work hours, and I never particularly liked it, since it was at lunchtime and we’d go to work after. I always wanted a festive event after hours, like all my friends. Fast forward to now, where I’m a company I don’t care much for, and they had a full expenses paid event at a local nightclub, and I bailed after showing my face. I really hate social events at my current company but couldn’t get enough at my old one. It’s been all about perspective for me!

I will say on the whole, I’ve been lucky not to experience some of the horror stories mentioned here! Phew.

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Bea W December 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm

True. I love my current job, but I’m not a fan of the corporate parties. My first full-time job had awesome parties, more like the kind of parties my manager likes.

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LMW December 13, 2013 at 1:16 pm

I work at a big corporation so there are usually a few different holiday celebrations. They had a family party at a museum and an adult party at a more upscale location – in either case, you have to donate a canned or dry good to get in. I didn’t go this year, but I’ve gone as a +1 (for my sister) in the past, and it’s fun — but you really need to have a date!
On my floor this year, we did a week long holiday potluck, with each team responsible for a different day. Apparently no one cooks, because it’s been a lot of take out and deli trays. I don’t think it’s a bad option, but I think it really needs to be a strictly voluntary thing. Our admin sent out three emails about it within a week and apparently went around with the sign up sheet to ask people what they were bringing if they hadn’t signed up.

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Victoria December 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Bowling starting at 2:00, with open bar and food court. That’s our holiday party, and everyone really enjoys it. Before our parties were excruciating- after hours, on someone’s home, food had to be brought, presents for a colleague had to be brought, etc.

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NatalieR December 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm

In lieu of party, my husband’s office reimburses up to $X to be spent on anything “festive” you like: a nice dinner out, gifts, travel expenses, etc. I am sure there are some restrictions, but it’s just nice to have a little extra cash to play with at the holidays.

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Kelly O December 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm

I like this.

Because honestly, how many of us could use a little extra cash this time of year?

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NatalieR December 13, 2013 at 8:48 pm

It’s so nice and probably ultimately cheaper than the party they used to put on.

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mel December 13, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I never like to go to our work parties, but I sometimes get roped into them when they assume I want to go and then give me that time off (not everyone gets to go, a few people get picked to cook and clean FOR AND DURING THE PARTY). Both options unfortunately suck.

So I usually go in to awkwardly sit alone in a corner and eat food for a couple of hours before running away. I just feel crazy anxious in social groups, and these social groups are the type to party really late and really rowdy and I just can’t handle it. No one actually wants to talk to me when they don’t have to (everyone else is very close, I’m the reclusive hermit of the group), so there’s literally nothing fun about these parties. We can’t even invite a guest most years, not that it helps.

My dude’s work parties, on the other hand, are fantastic. Everyone goes to an open restaurant for a free meal, and they hand out gifts. THAT’S IT. No silly games, no alcohol abuse, no squealing about dicks and getting wasted. It’s not one big room where everyone is expected to make their own fun together… it’s literally just a meal in a restaurant where people act like civil adults and have mature conversations.

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Marmite December 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Following my brother’s experience at his office holiday party this afternoon, I’d add “consider whether you have enough employees to make a party”. He works on a team with four other people, including his boss. Boss decided he was throwing a holiday party for the team. While my brother appreciated the afternoon off work, a party of five was rather intimate and awkward. A holiday lunch or drinks in a local pub would probably have been more appropriate!

Also, my office threw a party including boss dressed as Santa handing out gifts to the employee’s kids. While we have plenty of employees, I was the only one with a kid under teen age. It was awkward for me and my kid.

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Ask a Manager December 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm

He works on a team with four other people, including his boss. Boss decided he was throwing a holiday party for the team. While my brother appreciated the afternoon off work, a party of five was rather intimate and awkward.

Oooooh, this would be weirdly intimate. Please let us know any more details you have on what this was like.

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Marmite December 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I haven’t had the full story yet – only having chatted about it through text messages, I look forward to hearing about when I see my brother at the weekend!

It was a full-on party though, with balloon and crackers (typical at British Christmas gatherings) and paper hats. There was a secret Santa, with too few people to really disguise who got who what.

Also, to add to the overall awkwardness, one of the five employee’s mother was in hospital today having a relatively major operation so that employee was constantly on edge waiting to hear how it had gone!

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Mints December 13, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Oh jeez, I retract my comment haha. That is super weird!

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Mints December 13, 2013 at 2:06 pm

What defines it as a party? I’m genuinely curious.
My office is tiny, and they called it a “party” but was really a sit down dinner

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Marmite December 13, 2013 at 2:08 pm

From what I understand there was a sort of finger-food buffet, but no sit-down meal. There were party decorations, gift giving (secret Santa style), some party games, paper hats, all the hallmarks of a cheesy office party but with five attendees!

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doctorex December 14, 2013 at 6:40 am

I think this is hilarious, in a really awkward and uncomfortable kind of way. My department’s party seems really weird and intimate, and there are fifteen of us.

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Mints December 13, 2013 at 2:00 pm

This making me jealous of all the much better managed parties. This year the party was at a restaurant, after hours, at a place boss and his wife really like and is like a block from their house (they walked). I felt like they just invited the rest of us to expense the meal.
Oh bonus: over the summer, I was put in charge of finding a fun place for a summer event. I took a vote, and go-karting won. I started to plan it, and literally when I was about to book it, he decided to postpone it. Indefinitely. It was apparently not high class enough him, even though the vote was overwhelmingly positive.

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PPK December 13, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Our “fun” budget has no room for pretty much anything. Our department teams up with some of our related departments and we have a potluck lunch. The managers take care of bringing sandwiches (read: meat and buns). A couple years ago, they gave up on a token “what am I bringing” spreadsheet and people just bring in what they want. There’s usually plenty of food hitting all categories (including the important dessert table) so if people don’t want to bring food (or forget), there’s still plenty. It’s official enough so it’s expected you can stop work to go. But no one’s counting heads. You might get ribbing from a coworker, but all you have to say is you’re working on a customer thing (or have a call) and then you’re pretty much excused from anything (and pitied).

There are door prizes, but they’re very small. But, it’s better than nothing. So we have to “pay” in that it’s a potluck, but no one’s checking for a dish when you walk in the door (and it’s probably around a 50 person event…so no one’s going to notice).

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Anonymous December 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm

I think the obvious has been overlooked: rule #1 is invite Don Draper and stick him under the mistletoe.

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NBB December 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Ha!

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Anonicorn December 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Can we also add: do not ask your employees to sing?

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Ruffingit December 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Yes, please!! And actually, this goes for any activity at the party. Do not force people to sing, play games, etc. If they want to, cool. If not, leave them alone.

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Arbynka December 13, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Hey, I would sing. But since my singing tends to clear the room pretty fast, that would be the end of the party.

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bearcat December 13, 2013 at 3:53 pm

I was never more embarrassed than when there was singing at my holiday party. I work for state government and our Secretary (highest person in the hierarchy) started a sing along of Xmas carols. Then he would randomly stop and ask one person to do a solo. And it was my turn. Geez, how uncomfortable.

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Wubbie December 13, 2013 at 4:15 pm

We have karaoke at our holiday party every year. It is awesome and really popular. But no one is forced to participate. We’d be there for 8 hours if everyone who attended had to sing one song lol.

Our dept head sings (very badly) most years and it’s a blast.

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tcookson December 16, 2013 at 2:04 pm

I wish we’d have karaoke at our holiday party. I don’t — repeat DO NOT — want to do it myself, but my boss says that his go-to karaoke song is “King of the Road” and I really want to see him do it!

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Laurauk December 13, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Just travelling back from my Christmas work bash. Always well done. A paid for lunch with booze by the firm (but no pressure to drink but being London most people do.) A secret Santa for £5 – so this was put out two weeks ago – draw a colleagues name etc – which you can opt out of with no pressure – just silly stuff. Presented by the CEO over dessert and finished at 5. Then the ones who want to go do so on on their own money. Oh and our offices close between Christmas and New Year and we don’t have to take holiday.

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Jamie December 13, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I know I never look forward to the work party, even though my place does it with as little annoyance as possible, but I have zero Christmas spirit this year.

Let’s face it, I’m never Buddy in Elf – more like Jovie before her conversion…and that’s on a good year but this year…none.

Everything feels like an obligation this year, and I’m not in a particularly foul mood. Weird how trying to take a break from the holiday stuff is so noticed – the kids always complained I put up too many lights at home but this year, when I’m happy not to do anymore than the tree…what’s wrong with mom.

It’s like they want me to do it, secretly enjoying the tackiness even whist mocking me for it. Like a mean spirited tradition. :)

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Jake December 13, 2013 at 8:49 pm

They enjoy it.

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louise December 14, 2013 at 11:39 am

I’m sorry you have to hear about it when you’re just not feeling it. I’ve had so many years like that it’s just HARD.

Here’s to January. *clink*

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Jamie December 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I’ll drink to January!

And yes, I put the lights up for them. It was actually kind of nice to know that it mattered to them.

Oh and I got the best early Christmas present of all the other day. I was so stressed about having done nothing yet and being so busy, etc. and my husband forgot to tell me that since I’d been so sick earlier in the year, and the surgery he didn’t want me to stress over Christmas so he got the kids big gifts months ago.

All done, major purchases bought, paid for, and hidden. I felt bad for a second for not being involved, but he did good with what he got and I still get to do the little personal stuff and stockings which I love.

Still not feeling it, but doing my holiday baking this weekend while doing remote data migration – you don’t need Christmas spirit to enjoy a good cookie.

Random neural firing – but my boss gave me a box of Enstom’s peppermint cookie bark…wow. It’s not candy, it’s happiness in a box. I defy anyone to eat that without closing their eyes in reverence of the perfect bliss. The people make this stuff are doing the work of the angels.

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Anon December 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm

I just have one bone to nitpick – if you’re only going to have a Christmas party, then call it a Christmas party, not a holiday party. Call the white bearded Santa what it is. Do not hang a menorah on a Christmas tree or put one sole flimsy decoration in a corner and call it a holiday party. It will end up offending people who are minorities.

I am much happier when you call a spade a spade. If you do choose to do a Secret Santa, make it optional as again, it could offend people who don’t celebrate those holidays.

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Jamie December 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm

I think holiday party is appropriate if there is no overt Christmas theme – end of year holidays include New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and those apply to everyone.

Although I do agree with not trying to shoehorn other religions in an attempt to be inclusive due to lack of understanding. When I was a kid we learned about Rosh Hashanah and they didn’t feel the need to add whatever obscure saint days fall around the same time in September…that would have been weird and not necessary.

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the_scientist December 13, 2013 at 5:34 pm

My lab is too small to have a christmas party (or holiday party, I suppose), and our PI is Jewish. So that’s not an issue. My boyfriend’s Christmas party is tonight, and he won’t be attending (so obviously, neither will I). He works for a huge, huge company (in fact, most of their holding are grocery stores so you’d think if any place could get a good deal on food, it would be them) but they don’t allow plus-ones at all. I know the plus-one issue can get contentious, but I admittedly think his company did right by making the rule consistent at least. However, the party is after work, at a swanky nightclub, with an open bar. Nobody can bring a date and some people (boyfriend included) hate dancing….so I can’t imagine this being fun for them. It basically only seems like it would be fun if you’re looking to hook up with a co-worker….

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Bea W December 13, 2013 at 9:56 pm

hmmm, no dates, free booze, nightclub…maybe co-workers hooking up is what they’re going for.

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Nelly December 13, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I was stuck on a boat party once, and there was no escape, they made sure of that. Floating around Sydney Harbour, and it was supposed to end at midnight, just all the people in the world I liked the least, compulsory attendance, and a boss patrolling the ship to make sure no one found anywhere to hide.

I was in total distress (social anxiety), trying not to cry, shaking, and trying to hide in the toilet was no good as it was below the water line and just being there made me violently ill.

At one point a guy had an accident and thought he’d broken his arm, so the boat pulled to the pier to let him off, but they had security guards to make sure no one else left the boat.

As the boat pulled away again, with the boss’s saying they were going to party on to morning and we had no choice in the matter, I put my shoes in my handbag, put the handbag in my mouth, and dived into the harbour, wearing a long black evening dress.

In my mind, everything I bumped into was a shark!

I slopped up the stairs into the Sydney Opera House and tried to get a bit dry in their bathroom, and told concerned strangers I’d ‘fallen’ into the harbour. Taxi home. Blissful escape. I have never attended a single work christmas party since.

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Ruffingit December 13, 2013 at 9:05 pm

DAMN! That is an amazing story. And basically what you had there was kidnapping. You weren’t allowed to leave and security guards made sure of it? Again…DAMN! That sounds like a total nightmare to me. Glad you were able to escape and rock on for swimming to shore Michael Phelps :)

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Marianne December 13, 2013 at 6:19 pm

I work for a large corporation in IT. The tech division has a “year end celebration” in early December that that always has a theme that has nothing to do with any culture or religion. It’s at a rented venue with buffet and a few drink tickets per person. No pressure to attend and leave whenever you want. There is dancing at one spot in the venue and photo booths and door prizes. Best party ever.

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Prickly Pear December 13, 2013 at 7:27 pm

I work for a nationwide chain. There’s a huge party only for the bigwigs and ‘officially’ it doesn’t happen, but at least locally, we’re aware that it’s going down. My previous job was known for its super wild parties complete with skinny dipping. I was underage the majority of time I worked there, so I only saw the (hilarious) hungover aftermath.
Both this and reading some of these experiences make me count my blessings.

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Jake December 13, 2013 at 8:47 pm

After going to the first Christmas party for my company I decided to never go again. Luckily, nobody seems to notice, let alone mind.

It is a reasonably nice party, but I just can’t stand being around upper management while they act all buddy buddy, just waiting for the next chance to put each other down. If it was genuine it would be awesome, but being around fake niceness just makes me mad.

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Cassie December 13, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Yeah, this is why I mostly don’t like attending events. I can’t stand people being fake BFFs just to turn around and gossip about them after the party is over.

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cali7 December 13, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Can we add another: Don’t have people sit on Santa’s lap to receive presents (adult people that is)? And don’t assume that all people drink a lot? First holiday party I attended for company X, where as a remote worker I didn’t know people well, they had a man dressed as Santa give out presents. People kept going and sitting on his lap, with one woman straddling him. There were innuendo style comments and jokes between people who obviously knew each other. I was so.so.very.very.uncomfortable and sat there wondering what to do as person after person went forward. When it was my turn I went up and awkwardly perched on his lap briefly, and to his credit there was nothing sexual in his actions or conversation to me- that was obviously only between the consenting adults. Still it was so awkward that I rather gladly skipped the party the next year. The kicker? The gift was an exceptionally large bottle of wine (as part of a boxed gift). I’m conservative Christian of the sort where I will consume alcohol, but generally do so rarely and in very restricted amounts. Ended up finally taking it to a New Year’s Eve party to get rid of it like a year or two later, I think. To his credit current main job boss has been known to give other people alcohol but always gives me something else. I appreciate the consideration.

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