our company party is really a work meeting — with significant others

A reader writes:

We recently started having a “holiday party” after several years of not having any kind of employee gathering. All employees are invited and encouraged to attend. Each employee is permitted to bring a “guest,” which is generally their significant other if they have one.

At last year’s party, our director spoke for about 45 minutes about company direction, plans for the upcoming year, and other work specific topics.

The general consensus after the party was it was more like a work meeting and not appropriate for a holiday party, especially when half of the attendees were not even employees. Some people said they would not attend another “party” that included something that amounted to a work meeting and definitely did not want to subject their guest to it.

I broached this subject with our director in an attempt to bring the employees’ feelings to their attention, and they completely disagreed that this was not appropriate for this type of venue.

My opinion is we can have a corporate meeting/retreat (in place of this event or in addition to this event) or whatever else we want to call it and discuss policy and procedure, but we should not call it a party. If we call it a party, I feel a more appropriate speech would be recognizing new employees, employees hitting milestones, and some key topics, but it should be very brief.

The director feels that he wants the guests/significant others to truly understand what the employees do and feel invested in the company too.

Planning is starting for this year’s event. Am I off-base or do you think the director has a valid point? I’m very concerned that if we do the same thing again that no one will attend the third year.

Nooooo, you are so very much not off-base! Having to sit through that kind of speech can be boring enough when it’s your own company. Having to sit through it about a company you don’t even work for is not a party; it’s a dull obligation you’d get through for the sake of your partner and then quietly curse them in the car on the way home.

There’s a weird phenomenon where some companies (or more accurately, some company leaders) think that people outside the company are fascinated by internal company workings, when in fact they are not. It’s how you get sales pitches that are front-loaded with a bunch of extraneous information about the company’s founding, when you really just want to know about the features of the product. And apparently, it’s how you get holiday party guests hijacked and forced to listen to a presentation about a company they don’t work for.

Frankly, I’d even discourage the lower-key substitute that you propose, of recognizing new employees and employees hitting milestones. That too is internal company meeting stuff, not a party employees’ guests will be glad to be at.

And yes, you’re absolutely right that people will stop attending if your director continues doing this. At a minimum, they’ll stop bringing guests because they won’t want to subject them to, you know, a work meeting.

I’d recommend trying to clarify with your director exactly what type of event it’s supposed to be and what its goal is. Is it truly a holiday party, meant to increase morale and camaraderie? Or is it really just a work meeting with fancy dress and food? You also might gather feedback from employees about what they want in this year’s party and present that to him.

But ultimately, if he wants a work meeting disguised as a holiday party, just make sure people know what to expect of it, so that they can decide about guests accordingly.

{ 219 comments… read them below }

  1. Sascha

    “and feel invested in the company too.”

    Why? They don’t work there. Is the director one of those types that’s weird about company loyalty?

    1. Bend & Snap

      I think most spouses feel invested in the company in that it helps put a roof over their heads, but other than that, I’m more invested in not having my free time hijacked with a work meeting misleadingly labeled as a party.

      1. Gandalf the Nude

        Yeah, I’m invested in my SO’s continued employment and his personal well-being, but whether he gets that from this company or that doesn’t really matter to me. Given how many folks work for the paycheck as opposed to the cause, I’d bet that’s the prevailing attitude.

        (Although I would put up with a lame annual speech for continued access to the perks his company provides, that’s our specific situation, and it doesn’t sound like OP’s company has anything like that to offset.)

        1. Red Rose

          Back in ’90s, SO worked for a very large multinational company that sent us both on a couple of really nice all-expense paid trips (think 5 days at a Hawaiian resort). One night of the trip was a mandatory dinner with about an hour and a half of this stuff. I thought the trade-off was worth it though.

          On the other side, though, other companies he has worked for have had these sorts of holiday parties and they were definitely not worth it. The one I remember best was when the CEO was sloshed before the speechifying began. That was interesting, but not in a good way.

          1. Sascha

            I would absolutely listen to a 1.5 company spiel in exchange for a nice, all-expense-paid vacation, let alone two!!

    2. Kyrielle

      And even if they are, this is not the way to achieve it! I felt very invested in my husband’s previous company, and I feel fairly invested in his current one. I’ve never attended a party put on by the current one (I did take my kids to a Halloween trick or treat at the last one though), and I’ve never sat through a presentation about either.

      Instead, I have watched the effects of the job on my husband and thus on my family, and heard him talk about work. Why was I amazingly invested in his previous company? Because they treated their people well, which meant they treated my husband well. Why am I fairly invested in the current one? Because so far, with the exception of one stint on site at a client site that was an extra drive (and about which my husband did not complain, so I can’t really think they were unreasonable thinking it was okay), they have done the same.

      I learn to like my family members’ companies because the family members working there like them. Not because they make me sit through their internal meetings…that would have the opposite effect!

      1. Sascha

        That is a good point. I can see how I am also invested in my husband’s company in a similar manner. But yes, it’s not because I had to sit through a meeting!

    3. Letter writer

      Hi I’m the one who posted to Alison. To answer your question they are very much about company loyalty and can’t understand why anyone would be exploring any other options.

  2. AMT

    You don’t understaaaaaand! They gave their employees a lukewarm buffet and two drink tickets, which means they can subject them and their families to hours of work talk and they’ll be forced to enjoy it. Because it’s fuuuuuun. Work fuuuuun.

      1. Amber Rose

        Me too. Its because I read it as that kind of spooky voice people use when telling scary stories.

        “He was in the house the whole tiiiiime!”

    1. NickelandDime

      I thought this post was funny too. What isn’t funny is the OP’s letter. I imagined getting all dressed up in Spanx and heels and having to sit there listening to a speech like that at a PARTY, with my spouse going nuts next to me. This sounds like torture and if it were me, I wouldn’t let my spouse be subjected to that.

      1. Cube Farmer

        Laughing so hard! I am now going to evaluate everything against “was this worth putting on Spanx for?”

          1. Artemesia

            LOL. I managed to talk myself out of the Spanx for my son’s recent wedding so the answer for me is apparently ALWAYS no. I have convinced myself the outfit did not require it.

        1. Tau

          I’ve never heard of Spanx before and read that as “spandex”.

          It brought up some interesting mental images involving superhero company parties…

      1. Amber T

        Aziz Ansari’s voice? Or… Tom Haverford’s? Though if it were Tom Haverford’s, he would have said ‘drinky drinks’ or something to that extent.

    2. Natalie

      This place should hire the (probably fake) LW from the short answer post today. They’d love it!

      1. NickelandDime

        I thought that letter was shady too – I wasn’t sure until I saw the OP responding to the posters. Then I knew.

    3. Stephanie

      LOL. You’re bringing back bad memories of what I call Conference Chicken: lukewarm, underseasoned (yet overcooked) chicken breast, steamed veggies, some sort of risotto thing. Usually a salad with goopy Italian or ranch is the starter.

      1. Bad conference food

        LOL, you so called this! I’d almost forgotten about conference chicken. And for the vegetarians, lukewarm conference lasagna ~yum~…

        1. Rana

          That’s if you’re lucky. As I commented below, once all I got was a plate of plain steamed vegetables. No seasonings, nothing. :(

      2. Artemesia

        The last conference chicken I had looked and tasted exactly how I imagine ‘vat raised protein steak’ from science fiction novels would look and taste. Chicken breasts are rarely more than barely edible as prepared.

        1. Stephanie

          I’ve gotten conference chicken so rubbery that I wonder if it would bounce. But then I realize it wouldn’t be very professional to throw a chicken breast on the floor.

      3. NickelandDime

        Ugh, I almost died from Conference Chicken when I was in high school and went to an event. To this day, I give it Serious Side Eye. I guess they can’t do better with large crowds like that, but still.

      4. AnotherAlison

        Bonus points for some crappy sauce on top.
        Also: Being seated with the guy who got the vegetarian meal and everyone politely waiting 10 minutes for them to bring out that meal. (The guy always says to go ahead, but no one wants to be the first person.)
        Or: When thru some waitstaff inefficiency snafu, the table next to you is almost to dessert before you even get your main course.
        Extra bonus points if it’s just a buffet. . .(which I find myself getting to the end of with only a piece of bread on my plate, thinking something I will like is coming up ahead.)

        1. Stephanie

          Oh God. The sauce. It tastes like warm nothing.

          Sometimes the waitstaff inefficiency is a curse, because it’s like “Oh. That’s what’s awaiting me at the next course? Sigh.”

      5. Rana

        Oh, god. And if you make the mistake of ordering the Vegetarian Option, all you get is a plate with nothing but those steamed veggies on it. For the same outrageous price!

  3. TCO

    I wonder if a two-part event might work. Perhaps the director can speak while the employees enjoy appetizers, with guests joining afterward for dinner and socializing. I know this wouldn’t work for all workplaces–not everyone will want to drive/arrive separately from their date–but it could be a compromise if your director really won’t change his mind.

    Otherwise, just make sure the employees know what to expect, let them know guests are very optional, and let them decide accordingly. Low turnout and/or few guests might help your director get the picture.

    1. MicheleNYC

      That is how my work parties have all been set-up. The first hour was a meeting for the employees with light snacks/drinks and then guests were asked to arrive after all the “work” stuff was done.

    2. Hush42

      This is exactly what my company did this year. The party was at a local Casino and the company paid for hotel rooms there for all the employees. The employees were required to attend the end of the year meeting at 5 and the party started at 6 so all the SOs just hung out in their hotel rooms or gambled for the hour while we were stuck in the meeting. They also paid to have the open bar open at 5 so we could have drinks during the meeting which was nice.

  4. Windchime

    OldJob had a holiday “party” that was like that. There was good food, usually a fun theme (Old West was particularly popular), and music. However, after the buffet dinner (but before the music) was usually about an hour of boring talking and presenting of Years of Service pins and Employee of the month blah blah blah. They kept people there by giving away drawing prizes in the middle of the boring talking. But as soon as all the prizes were given out, people left. So by the time the band or DJ started, there might be 50 people out of the original 300-400 left.

    1. Letter writer

      This is exactly what happen last year. Once the speech was over and the prizes given out it cleared out in no time.

  5. David McWilliams

    “The director feels that he wants the guests/significant others to truly understand what the employees do and feel invested in the company too.”

    Oh hell no.

    1. Artemesia

      Show me a spouse who doesn’t know all they want to do about their SO’s work and what they do.

      1. periwinkle

        Mine! But that’s because my employer manufactures big metal objects.

        Okay, he doesn’t care that much about my job or corporate strategy. He just wants to see the factories.

  6. Snarkus Aurelius

    Someone needs to get out more.  Yikes.

    This scenario is clearly a case of being waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too personally and professional invested in a job so much so that the boss thinks everyone else — including significant others, the caterers, the cab drivers, and the family dog — are just as invested as he is.

    It’s a job that pays the bills.  Why oh why must work be anything more than that? 

    I have nothing to add OP except your story made me think of an ex-coworker.  I worked in a government job for many years.  The Big Boss was a political appointee.  I was talking about media strategy once and stated that the DC press has a lot to cover so we need to choose our opportunities wisely and not pitch every little fart in the wind.  

    My ex-coworker was shocked that there were people out there, not just in DC but nationwide, who had never hard of Big Boss.  I pointed out that the majority of Americans couldn’t name their Members of Congress so bureaucrats would be even more removed from that.  He kept insisting otherwise because he honestly believed all Americans cared about Agency X as much as he did.

    Some people you just can’t reach.

    1. Allison

      “the family dog”

      Great, now I’m picturing this guy going home, sitting his dog down, and standing up straight with his hands clasped in front of him and saying “Spot, it’s been a great Q3 at Boring Men, Inc. . . . We saw some deals fall through, saw some great people go on to bigger and better things, but we also saw some successes! And that’s what I’d like to talk about tonight. FIRST, our sales team blew it outta the water . . .” etc. etc.

        1. HeyNonnyNonny

          I see it as the complete opposite of Mad Men. Everyone drinks tap water instead of cocktails and wears schlubby khakis.

          1. Snork Maiden

            And they’re all extremely confident! You know this because they walk around and tell each other how confident they are.

            1. Rana

              We need this to become a regular part of AAM, I think. Boring Men, Inc. – they’d be rivals of Chocolate Teapots if they were interesting, but they’re not.

        1. Lamington

          My dog will ask if with the dividend paid if she can get an upgrade on her treats, only top of the line will do!

      1. MashaKasha

        This ties in nicely with a couple of recent threads. I say, make these parties mandatory and have everyone bring in their dogs and kids. Babies are people too! They need to be invested in what their parents do for a living.

      2. Jazzy Red

        “the family dog”

        I had forgotten about this until just now.

        When I first moved to NW Arkansas, I took a job at Walmart Home Office. They had mandatory orientation where they talked (and talked, and talked) about Sam, his background, when he opened his first store, and his dog. The Walmart brand dog food is named after him (Old Red??). After the orientation, we had a quiz on everything we just heard, with several questions about the stupid dog. OK, maybe the dog wasn’t stupid, but making knowledge about the dog part of our job training was stupid. I don’t know if they still do that, but between the dog and the idiotic Walmart cheer, I couldn’t wait to find a new job. Which I did a year later, and lived happily ever after (sort of).

        1. Lalaith

          I went to a very multicultural-focused grad school, and during one of the class sessions, our professor sat down and told us about his experiences growing up and how cultural differences affected him and his family. And then questions about the professor’s life showed up on our class final. People were… not amused.

    2. Sascha

      The family dog will probably be the most invested, since dogs are all I LOVE YOU AND EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU!!

      1. JMegan

        It’s true, the dog would probably be a good audience for something like this! Just don’t try to get the cat on board, because the cat DOES NOT CARE.

      2. Charlotte Collins

        Yes, the dog’s probably the only one willing to sit through something like that twice. And she’d be fine with the lukewarm buffet food.

    3. Jerzy

      Having worked in a communications role in government myself (state, not federal) I can totally relate. I would try to explain to my bosses that we didn’t need to (and shouldn’t) send out three or four press releases on nothing everyday, because reporters would get too used to seeing garbage from us that they would be more likely to miss something actually significant. But being politicians themselves, egos prevailed.

  7. Myrin

    “The director feels that he wants the guests/significant others to truly understand what the employees do and feel invested in the company too.”

    I’d guess that if the significant other/family member/guest is at all interested in what the emloyees do, they’ll probably have found out about that by now simply by asking their so/family member/whatever about it (unless the relationship is like, super new). They’re also likely only interested in what this one specific person they have some kind of relationship with does, not every single employee they maybe don’t even know. (I mean, I guess you could find out about an unexpectedly interesting to you job a coworker of your partner has that way but really, what are the odds?)

    Secondly, like Sascha above says, why should the guests feel invested in the company? If they’ve made it up to this point without being invested in it, it’s probably not important.

    1. JMegan

      Exactly. As an employee, I expect my spouse feels invested in my company to the extent that he wants it to succeed so I can keep working there and earning a living. Other than that, I don’t think he cares very much about what we do here day to day. And as the spouse of someone who is also an employee (of a very different organization), I can say the same for him and his company – I know what I need to know about it, and I don’t care one way or the other about the organization except to the extent that it keeps him employed and happy.

      And I can pretty much guarantee that forcing me to sit through a speech like that would make me less invested in the organization, not more. It would very likely push me from “Meh, I don’t care one way or the other” to “Wow, that speech was really boring, and your boss is a bit of a jerk!”

    2. Jwal

      If you don’t want to talk to your partner about their job, then you’re proably completely uninterested.

      If you do talk with your partner about their job then you probably kow all you need to know.

      Maybe th firm could just give aout leaflets for their employees’ spouses to discretely bin instead – I imagine the printing would be a lot cheaper than an event!

  8. Allison

    “The director feels that he wants the guests/significant others to truly understand what the employees do and feel invested in the company too.”

    If I had a spouse or live-in partner with a full-time job or steady contract, I’d probably feel invested in the company since the company’s success is tied to my partner’s job security, and thus our financial security as a whole. Even moreso if he had stock options there (I’d literally feel invested). But no matter how much I care about what my partner does or how the company does, I would not want to sit or stand through a 45 minute speech about it. That’s something he can do as part of his duties as an employee, and I can go to my company’s boring work meetings.

    I smell BS, it sounds like the director knows people hate company meetings, and is trying to use the party to lure in a captive audience, or dress up the meeting like a party to make people more excited to be there. He should at least let people get drunk before he starts talking everyone’s ears off!

    1. Chocolate lover

      I’m invested in my husband’s own professional success and job satisfaction, so to the degree that his employer continues to pay his salary and give him raises, that’s the extent of my “investment” in them. I don’t want to go to “parties” focusing on the company pitch.

      I have read an article or two, I’ll see if I can find the link, about some companies trying to engage employee families in their work. It’s great to be mindful/respectful of people’s families, but there’s a limit to how invested you can realistically expect them to be.

    2. Dynamic Beige

      or dress up the meeting like a party to make people more excited to be there.

      Or make it so that the party can be a tax write off/appear to be a legitimate business expense.

  9. Nom d' Pixel

    When someone new took over our company several years ago, they started doing that. I suspect that they did it to save money because so few people are willing to sit through it and have just stopped going. A two minute speech/toast thanking everyone for a year of hard work and wishing them the best in the upcoming year is fine. Subjecting everyone and their guests to an hour of prattling (with demands thrown in about how you need to be more dedicated to work) is not fine.

    It is horrible and against the entire spirit of a holiday party.

    1. peanut butter kisses

      I think that is the way to do it – a small short speech if you feel you absolutely must.

  10. HR Recruiter

    “The director feels that he wants the guests/significant others to truly understand what the employees do and feel invested in the company too.” This reminded me of an employee manual from the 1950’s someone shared with me. The manual wasn’t for the employee but for the employee’s wife on how she should support her husband and his career.

    1. Allison

      Can’t say I’m surprised, that was super normal back then. Has anyone here read/been watching Astronaut Wives?

    2. Chocolate lover

      Not unusual in some circles still – I’m thinking of university president’s and their spouses. Though these days, there are more women presidents, so it has expanded to also include their husbands, though to a more limited degree than male presidents’ wives.

      1. Xarcady

        One reason I want a woman elected President of the US is just to watch as her husband navigates the role of First Spouse, getting interviewed on table cloth colors and holiday decorations around the White House, as well as his choice of completely non-controversial charitable efforts. And have reporters commenting on his choice of attire at each event he attends.

        1. INFJ

          I’m with you!

          Especially can’t wait for the “not enough make up” criticisms he won’t be getting.

        2. Allison

          Realistically, they’ll be interviewing him about what cars he likes to drive, where he likes to go golfing or fishing, how he grills his steaks, and soooooo many questions about how it feels having his wife run the country. They’ll want to portray him as a red blooded, American man’s man, but there will also be concerns about the constant emasculation that comes with having a wife more powerful than you.

        3. Scotty_Smalls

          I know First Ladies probably have a staff anyway but I feel like someone else would be hired to do all that stuff. Like a stand in First Lady. That is unless Bill Clinton had a secret passion for linens and Douglas Firs.

          1. KSM

            They do have a staff, who are responsible for every social and ceremonial events at the White House. The practice of having a full, formal staff (as opposed to smaller staffs equivalent to what a well-to-do man would have as personal staff) for the First Lady dates to Rosalynn Carter and now a First Lady’s staff often exceeds 20. But their choices about all of these things are reported! Try searching “Michelle Obama decorates.”

            1. Observer

              Well, Michelle Obama gets a double whammy, because she’s black. And, it’s sometimes even explicit. I’ll never forget when there was a whole hoo-ha about her sneakers. They were realy expensive (>500) and this was considered a VERY BAD THING to do, because she wore them to spend a day volunteering at a food bank, and what kind of example is she giving all the poor black ghetto kids?!

              You can’t make this stuff up!

              Links in the the reply.

              1. Observer

                The first one is the best:

                http://sweetness-light.com/archive/role-model-michelle-wears-540-sneakers

                http://www.cbsnews.com/news/michelles-pricey-sneakers-raise-eyebrows/

                http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2009/05/michelle-obama-shoes.html

                http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/fashion/lady-michelle-obama-steps-lanvin-sneakers-540-article-1.376580

                http://www.foxnews.com/story/2009/05/01/michelle-obama-wears-540-designer-sneakers-to-feed-poor.html

                http://scaredmonkeys.com/2009/05/02/michelle-obama-its-in-the-shoes-especially-those-540-lanvin-sneakers-nice-image-in-face-of-depression-let-them-wear-keds/

                1. Rana

                  She can’t win, either way. Remember when she caught all that flack for being seen in public wearing “mom shorts”?

        4. Noah

          I think that would be awesome. That stuff sounds like the fun part of living in the White House. I’d much rather leave this “running the country” BS up to someone else.

          Now on my list of things to do: get married and then convince wife to become president.

    3. Chinook

      ““The director feels that he wants the guests/significant others to truly understand what the employees do and feel invested in the company too.” This reminded me of an employee manual from the 1950’s someone shared with me”

      I can see remnants of this in my current employer, but it makes sense because, until 10 years ago, said employer provided employee housing and entertainment because they were often the only employer in the middle of nowhere and, as a result, the company was important to the entire family. But, with internet access available in the middle of the mountains and an actual highway now going through those towns, this is no longer the case. Still, it is still interesting hearing the old timers talking about the company curling bonspiel or playing “who are you related to?” with some of the field staff.

  11. Ann O'Nemity

    I could see having a 2-3 minute announcement. “2015 was a great year. We accomplished A, B, and C. And we couldn’t have done it without our incredible employees! Thank all of you for your hard work! 2016 is going to be even better, blah blah blah. Thank you all for coming, enjoy the party.” But 45 minutes? Yikes. I wish someone would have gotten drunk, passed out, and started snoring – just to signal how horrible this “party” was.

    Also, I wonder if the non-exempt workers got paid for attending. Because this sounds like work.

    1. Ann O'Nemity

      And did anyone else think of the 30 Rock reference? “Ain’t no party like a Liz Lemon party, because a Liz Lemon party is mandatory.”

      1. Sascha

        I think I’d have a lot more fun at a Liz Lemon party though – it would probably involve sitting at our respective homes workin’ on our night cheese. :)

            1. The Cosmic Avenger

              YOU DO! Very “Parks & Rec” feel, if you replace “local government” with “large media corporation”.

    2. Cath in Canada

      Our director usually speaks for about 10 minutes at our holiday party. It’s a non-profit (academic research), so there’s generally more expectation of employee investment in the mission than in the private sector, and I’ve never heard anyone complain about it. A couple of years ago my husband said that it was very interesting and that the director was clearly a very passionate and intelligent person doing great work, and also “I don’t have to come again next year, do I?”

  12. Paige Turner

    I suppose for some companies maybe it wouldn’t matter, but it seems like it’s not a good idea to give out a lot of internal company news and info to non-employees. I can see the urge from the director to include some work info (although if I were me I’d be happier if they left it out entirely), but if it goes over a few minutes, then OP needs to get a Wrap-It-Up box :D

    1. AW

      it seems like it’s not a good idea to give out a lot of internal company news and info to non-employees

      Yeah, what’s up with that? How does the boss know that none of the guests work for a competitor or anyone other entity that could profit from this information? It’s a little hard to believe that there’s 45 minutes worth of talking points that’s both 100% OK for the general public to hear and not months old information. I don’t know, maybe he drifts off into tangents a lot.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        Yup, my spouse and I work for competitors in the same field, competing for the same pool of clients.

      2. Ad Astra

        I have at least one coworker whose spouse works for a direct competitor, though I’m not sure if their roles are similar. I’m sure there are more.

      3. Lexi7

        That was my first thought too – doesn’t the Director realize that none of the “guests” have signed a non-disclosure agreement? Our Legal team would never have permitted something like that.

    2. MashaKasha

      This crossed my mind, too! Unless the director planned on feeding his employees an hour of complete BS laced with buzzwords.

  13. Elkay

    A few years ago I worked for a company who bought more than 50% of the tables at a Christmas party at a local hotel, somehow we managed to convince the hotel that our boss should be allowed to give a speech before dinner, imagine being one of the poor souls at the ~45% of the tables that had nothing to do with our company.

    1. Menacia

      It would have been great if one of the 45% heckled him! Hell, you should have paid someone to do that! ;)

    2. Charlotte Collins

      I would ask for my money back. From your company, not the hotel. (For the record, I do not ask for refunds lightly.)

      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        I would have asked for it back from the hotel. The company didn’t take my money, and they weren’t responsible for the service at the party, the hotel did/was.

        1. Charlotte Collins

          Actually, I’d ask for it back from both. Or at least an apology from the company. And I’d tell everyone I knew about what happened.

          1. Charlotte Collins

            I think my thought is that the hotel let it happen, but if a company wants me to sit through something like a work-related speech, they should treat me like an employee and reimburse me for my time. (In all honesty, if the CEO had paid for all the non-employees’ meals, this would seem weird to me but not bother me as much.)

            1. The Cosmic Avenger

              Ah, good point. I would have gotten up and made my own speech about how overzealous copyright enforcement and restriction actually encourage piracy without preventing it. I mean, I paid for the room, too, don’t we all get to make a speech? What, you don’t want to listen to my speech that has nothing to do with you?? What a coincidence, I feel exactly the same way! /s

      1. Windchime

        There was also another Michael Scott company dinner where they booked it in the dining room of the local TGIF and there were non-Dunder/Mifflin diners who had to witness the whole thing. Sad and funny.

    3. NickelandDime

      They did this because it was cheaper to do that than book a room, etc., right?

      Sigh…Happy Holidays!!

    4. Trillian

      I write fiction, so I have the advantage of (a) a highly developed fantasy life if I’m not in the mood to listen, and (b) pleasure in people-watching if I am. I watch the speaker and the watchers, and store up material

  14. Kyrielle

    Mind you, back when I first entered the working world, I worked for a company that did something a *little* like this and it worked *really* well, but it worked really well because it was only a little like this.

    They had an annual all-hands meeting in the city headquarters was in, which also was a nice tourist destination. You could bring your spouse and have them stay in your hotel room; I don’t remember if the company covered air fare or not. (I wasn’t married yet, so I didn’t pay a lot of attention to that.)

    We had an all-day all-hands meeting that was employees only; spouses could stay in the hotel, go out and see the sights, whatever.

    And then we had a huge dinner party and dancing at a resort, to which the spouses were invited. I can’t say I enjoyed it very much (it was a little too fancy for my tastes), but I felt I had to go and I did. I didn’t have a terrible time; ten years later, I would’ve loved it very much. (And now it would be a nightmare because of my food restrictions, but so it goes.)

  15. the gold digger

    This sort of thing makes me crazy about political fundraisers. I attend them with my husband occasionally because – well, because most of the time I don’t. Most of the time, I stay home to watch season one of “Nashville” (if you are not watching this show, even if only to see how people should not be managed, you should) or to clean the bathroom or to do a million other things that are more fun than being around political people. But sometimes you do things with your husband because he asks you to.

    When I do attend – and pay for the privilege – it is a fundraiser, after all – to have to listen to a ten-minute speech when I would rather be talking to the few people there I like is adding insult to injury.

    NOBODY EVER WANTS TO HEAR A SPEECH. EVER. (Unless it is Oprah telling you to look under your seat for the keys to your new car.)

      1. Charlotte Collins

        Most toasts at weddings go on to long. And these are people you (presumably) care about and like to hear nice things about.

        OK – I have gone to a wedding where someone recited Peter Cook’s speech from “The Princess Bride.” Best wedding toast ever.

        1. Amber Rose

          People at my wedding had a strict 5 minute limit to talk. Even me. My speech was like, 30 seconds.

          We’d had the dance going for an hour by the time the wedding party in the room next to us stopped talking. Half their guests had snuck into our party, including some of the bridesmaids.

          It gives me something to brag about: I threw a wedding reception so awesome I accidentally crashed someone else’s wedding.

        2. Natalie

          When I was an MOH I found some article that advised that my speech shouldn’t be that long – no more than 10-15 minutes. What the what? Try 2.

        3. Cath in Canada

          I co-MCed a friend’s wedding once and the speeches went on FOR EVER. I felt so bad for being part of it, introducing yet another speaker. Every single out-of-town guest had to be personally introduced and thanked for coming, at length. My own wedding was a few months later and we kept things as short as possible after seeing all the glazed eyes around the room at this earlier wedding. (My Dad still went on for too long, but we knew he’d do that).

          1. simonthegrey

            We had 2 speeches: the best man, and my dad. The maid of honor had anxiety and the groom’s dad doesn’t do speeches. Total amount of time, five minutes.

        4. hnl123

          I had a strict NO SPEECH policy at my wedding. Only our two egotistical dads missed the opportunity to out-do each other. NO ONE ELSE missed it :)

  16. AnotherAlison

    My company has plenty of parties. Some are tagged on the end of business events (not the holiday party though!), so we have a meeting during business hours, and spouses are free to join for cocktails and appetizers after. Sometimes I’m wondering Why? It seems not really worth the dressing up & driving to the hotel for that, but at least they aren’t stuck in the 4-hour meeting beforehand.

  17. Former Diet Coke Addict

    Lord in heaven, I wish I could get my boss to stop starting every sales presentation with the details of when the business was founded, what we sell, who we sell to, and how big the company is before ever even getting to the actual sales part.

    1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

      Oh I know!!! I just want to scream NOBODY CARES!!!!!!!!!!!! when that happens.

      1. the gold digger

        Eventually, I will want to know if the vendor is stable and trustworthy, but not before I know if you can actually do anything for me, the customer. Tell me how you will solve my problem and we’ll go from there.

    2. Anonsie

      Oh my god, right? Where I work they actually made a policy a few years ago that all meetings are *required* to start with this stuff. I want to tear my hair out every time. I’ve seen this org chart! I’ve seen it a thousand times! Put it away with get to it!

    3. PlainJane

      Even worse–the librarians conference version: the presenter who spends 20 minutes of a 50-minute presentation talking about their institution, their library, blah blah blah before getting to the presentation. Put a snapshot of your setting on one slide, spend about 15 seconds on it, and *get to the point*!

  18. Swarley

    I’m curious about the benefit of having spouses and SO’s “feel invested” in the company culture? Is it to justify crazy working hours? Buy stock? Encourage them to apply for work there as well?

    But seriously, I get that the idea is to promote a sense of loyalty to the company, but this is a bizarre (and ineffective and boring) way to go about it. Pay your employees well, treat them with respect, provide opportunities for advancement, etc. It really doesn’t have to be so convoluted.

    1. Malissa

      It’s a narrow minded view point that neglects the fact that many/most significant others have their own jobs to be invested in. This might have been a relevant view point back in an era when one income households were more common.

    2. TCO

      Yep, any loyalty to or investment in my husband’s company comes from how well they treat him. If he’s happy, I’m happy, and I don’t care much about the details. Is he respected? Challenged? Paid competitively? Held to reasonable expectations and schedules?

      I’ve attended some small team dinners hosted by my husband’s various bosses, and it’s nice to get to know the handful of people I hear a lot of stories about. But that’s about as far as my interest goes–I don’t need an in-depth presentation filled with jargon I don’t even understand.

    3. Anonsie

      Probably because the execs/owners/whoever feel like the company is their baby, much like a real baby, think theirs is more special than everyone else’s and just want everyone to see how special and amazing it is.

  19. Mike C.

    I think it’s also really crazy to start talking about internal company matters with random guests in attendance.

    1. AnotherAlison

      Yeah, my manager’s SO works for a competitor. It would be one thing for her to slip up confidential stuff at home, but it’s another to put it on a silver platter for them.

      1. KarenT

        I was just thinking how this would never work in my industry for that reason. For some reason publishing people love to marry other publishing people.

  20. Malissa

    This is my husbands former employer’s Christmas party. Just add in stupid ice breaker games and a group sing along to make the event a total horror. At least there was alcohol available, even if it was a cash bar.

    1. JMegan

      Goodness, it’s too bad that I have that dentist appointment scheduled at the *exact same time* as the party! Yes, again this year. Funny how that keeps happening, right?

  21. Hlyssande

    I don’t even want to sit through my company’s quarterly webcasts where we’re supposed to listen to all that stuff. I would never subject a friend or partner to that, ever.

    They often do spend time during the local holiday luncheon talking about some of that stuff, but at least it’s while we’re eating and before the prize drawings. Everyone also gets a $20 target card so it’s worth the wait.

    This year they had an ugly sweater contest that was highly entertaining.

  22. Erin

    You’ve already aired your and your coworkers’ very valid concerns. I would personally not bring it up again. But do make it clear to your coworkers that this “party” will be reminiscent of the past two years, so plan accordingly.

    Then let the chips fall where they may. Try not to rub it in too much when it’s just you, your boss, and the company brown-noser at the event.

    1. AndersonDarling

      Maybe they should spare the front line staff and just have the party for the leadership team.

  23. Elder Dog

    OP, have you asked the director how he wants the exempts to book this time, and where he wants the overtime for the non-exempts added to the budget? I think that should come out of his office, not their department’s budgets.

  24. AndersonDarling

    Does the OP’s company build rockets for deep space, engineer cyborgs, make blockbuster action movies, or invent nanobots that cure cancer? Then no, no spouse wants to hear about it.
    Maybe the OP’s director should attend a strategic planning meeting at an unrelated company and see how exciting that is.

    1. AnotherAlison

      The issue could be that a certain breed thinks a strategic planning meeting at an unrelated company would be a hoot. Who else sits through all those industry conference sessions?

    2. AW

      Willing to bet the OP’s boss could make even those things boring by discussing software bug lists or defending tired cliches in movies.

    3. HeyNonnyNonny

      Now I’m just trying to think of companies where this could be OK. Puppy rescue or grooming? Bouncy ball factory? Juggling and clown academy?

    4. Stephanie

      My company will offer facility tours to the public (and encourages us to invite friends and family) as like a community involvement thing. But we work at an industrial facility, so there are lots of mechanical things operating and stuff happening. They do not subject visitors to discussions of KPIs.

    5. Cath in Canada

      This amused me because my husband’s a carpenter in the movie industry, and I work in cancer research. His work parties are definitely much more lavish than mine, and the “shop talk” usually involves a short speech by the director and sometimes a gag reel.

    6. AcademiaNut

      I’ve worked for NASA. They didn’t do stuff like this.

      JPL had an amazing once a year general open house, if you wanted to see the really cool stuff, and spouses and families were invited to the launch party (which is a lot more nail-biting that a typical office party, as 30 years of work goes on top of a large controlled explosion).

  25. Amber Rose

    My investment in a company I don’t work for is pretty much limited to the short speech thanking everyone for their hard work that usually happens at husband’s work parties.

    True fact: my investment in my own company is pretty much limited to just that. No matter how much I love my company (and I honestly do), I will never love long speeches.

  26. Career Counselorette

    This makes me think of how my mother absolutely detested my father’s company’s holiday parties, and would look for any excuse possible to get out of them. My father hated the holiday parties too, but he’s a Director, so it’s more important that he attend these events. The company eventually stopped having holiday parties for budget reasons, but it was always this huge point of contention between my parents, because my dad felt like he needed my mother to be there in order to withstand the misery of it all. One year my mother was adamant that she wouldn’t go, and she told my father, “Just tell them that I had tickets to a show on the same night or something.” And my dad was like, “BUT THAT’S NOT FAIR I’D SAY THAT WE BOTH HAD TICKETS TO SOMETHING HOW COME YOU GET TO SKIP IT” and we were like, “Uh, last time we checked, Mom doesn’t work there?” She ended up not going, and then my dad got even more upset because another Director skipped the event too, and in his stead his ex-wife showed up with a friend, like that wouldn’t be weird or anything.

    1. Gandalf the Nude

      …in his stead his ex-wife showed up with a friend, like that wouldn’t be weird or anything.

      I… ju… what? I can’t wrap my brain around this one. Who thinks like this??

      1. Career Counselorette

        My mom thought it was the funniest thing ever. She was like, “They probably thought they’d be able to meet some guys!”

        1. JMegan

          Wait, the ex-wife brought a platonic friend? I assumed you meant she showed up with her new boyfriend! Not that they’re not both equally weird, of course.

          1. Career Counselorette

            Yeah, she brought a platonic female friend. My dad said at first everyone was like, “Who are these two random women?” and finally someone introduced themselves, and she was like, “Yeah, I’m Jim’s ex-wife, he couldn’t make it. This is my friend.” like it was totally nothing.

  27. Chocolate Teapot

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

    I can imagine a short speech along the lines of “Thanks for all your hard work this year. Next year will be very exciting too, but for now, enjoy the evening.”

    At which point the champagne flutes clink. (Or maybe that’s just the companies at which I have worked!)

  28. Ad Astra

    My husband works for a public school district, so I feel a bit more invested in my spouse’s “company” than a lot of people do… and I still would have no interest in a “party” like this.

  29. Amy

    If I were a spouse/guest at such a party, I’d be tempted to raise my hand during the speech and start asking pointed, detailed questions about the company’s strategic plans. Maybe obviously taking notes. Or pulling out a camera and videotaping the speech. But then, I’m kind of a jerk.

    Definitely, if you or any of your coworkers are non-exempt, ask now what billing code you should use to bill the time.

  30. Jwal

    If he insists on having a speech then at least do the talking whilst people are eating. That way people have an excuse to not have to pretend to be listening…

    1. Hlyssande

      For real. That’s what we do during our holiday lunch when they’re talking – at least, I always sit close to the buffet so it’s not weird when I grab more. :P

      1. Jwal

        I would love it if someone then started exclaiming loudly “Cecil have you TASTED this salad? It’s absolutely DIVINE. How about you Gertrude? You just HAVE to have some!” etc over the top of whoever’s talking :)

  31. AcidMeFlux

    On the other hand, this would be a rip-roaring good old time for commenter “work is the best”.

  32. Some2

    Is it different when it’s a fundraiser?

    I work for a nonprofit that does something very similar, except it isn’t at the holidays (it’s usually in April), and it’s called our Annual Dinner. Employees plus one guest can attend for free; our trustees and other members of the community are welcome to attend but pay a fee (that’s the fundraising part).

    Around the office it’s billed as a party, and though attendance is “optional” we’re very much expected to attend, with spouses/significant others. We have to dress up, and though there is usually some sort of buffet dinner, the main part of the evening is a check in from our director, our board president, etc., giving info about the sort of year the organization had and where we’re headed in the future. On top of that, we also do employee service recognitions, awards, etc.

    So is this unusual? Uncouth? Out of line? It’s a very boring meeting and I can’t imagine why anyone pays money to go. But it just seems like one of those things that is pretty normal and widely accepted and you just suck it up and go once a year.

    1. AW

      Around the office it’s billed as a party, and though attendance is “optional” we’re very much expected to attend, with spouses/significant others.

      That’s the problem with this. They should stop pretending it’s a party and stop pretending it’s optional. If it’s a fancy fundraiser/annual meeting then fine, but it becomes insulting when they tell you to pretend that this is a fun thing that you actually want to spend your free time doing.

      1. TCO

        Agreed–it’s not inappropriate to expect nonprofit employees to attend their organization’s fundraisers and/or annual meetings (as long as they aren’t charged to attend). I don’t think it’s ideal that spouses are expected to attend–but once a year isn’t a big deal for most couples. I agree with AW that this shouldn’t be viewed as a party, though, because it’s not. It’s a work obligation that may or may not be enjoyable.

        I know that when I worked in nonprofits, there were a lot of volunteer/event opportunities that I didn’t ask my husband to attend. There definitely was the occasional important one and he was happy to come out of support for me, but I tried to keep that to a minimum out of respect for his time. I didn’t want him to constantly be volunteering for me at the expense of his other interests and his own volunteer commitments. The same was true of my other family members and friends–I loved having them involved but didn’t want to over-ask. Some of my coworkers’ partners were definitely more involved in these kinds of events but I think that choice should be up to them and not mandated by the organization.

    2. Natalie

      If you’re in Development, this is pretty par for the course in my experience. But no one in Development thinks it’s an awesome party – they know they’re there to work, and they get a couple of drinks as a bonus.

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      If it’s a fundraising gala type thing, the rah-rah stuff about the org and the update about where the org is going and what it’s done is normal and expected. But the employee service recognition awards are not — that’s really an internal thing and not something you should ask an audience of donors to sit through.

  33. Us, Too

    Aside from the boring concerns…. And forgive me if this was already addressed and I skimmed over it inadvertently…

    Isn’t anyone else concerned that if this is a public company, something may be stated to non-employees that would be an SEC concern? You better make sure that whatever anyone says at that “party” makes itself public immediately thereafter, if not before.

  34. Person of Interest

    My husband’s company does a similar holiday party, with a PowerPoint (of course) covering employee recognitions/milestones (this the nicest part, IMHO), recap of the year’s milestones, how much money they made, etc. It’s boring, but certainly entertaining when the CEO is really drunk. The worst part is that they always throw in inside jokes and crazy photos about so-and-so in the inner circle, so not only is it boring and awkward for spouses, but also for the majority of employees who mostly work offsite. I usually just go along and smile as dutiful wife, but last year’s party was on my (milestone) birthday and I said no way – we skipped it.

    1. Merry and Bright

      I was just reading through to see if my OldWeirdJob was the only one that put the employees’ partners through a PowerPoint presentation. They used to film it too, upload it to YouTube and send the link round for those who had missed it. Happy holiday viewing.

  35. LizNYC

    I can understand having a party where the head boss makes a short speech, like, “Teapots Inc. had a banner year, with 50% increase in sales and the honor of supplying the royal family with their tea needs…” 5 minutes for that stuff, max!

    At my office’s end of the year party, we bring significant others, listen to a short (short) speech from the president, and find out the winners of awards that fellow employees voted on, from the semi-serious (“Outstanding Team Player”) to the silly (“Best Partier.”) The whole things takes 15 minutes tops, in the middle of a 4-hour party (did I mention there’s open bar?).

  36. Cautionary tail

    I had to do this once and I”m surprised that nobody mentioned it yet in the comments above: this sounds like a multi level marketing (MLM) company, a pyramid scam.

    I attended this “party” with a close friend and it turned out to be an hour long pitch on how wonderful the company is, how wonderful all their people are, look how much money I made, see how rich I am, don’t all you guests wish you could be as rich as me, blah, blah, blah. They even blocked the exit with stuff so I couldn’t escape.

    Yes Market America, I’m talking about you,

    Friend and I are no longer friends.

  37. CAndy

    Is it possible that the CEO is doing the business update so that the cost of the event can legitimately be termed a business expense for tax purposes?

    1. Margaret

      That’s not necessary (though, I could understand some businesses believing that) – the fact that it’s for the employees makes it deductible. Trying to make it a business meeting could actually make it worse, tax-wise – a meal at which you discuss business is only 50% deductible (under the normal “meals & entertainment” rules), but a “recreational expense for employees” (e.g., holiday party, summer picnic, etc.), is an exception and fully deductible. (Because it’s for the benefit of the employees, not directly the company itself.)

  38. Out of State

    We had a Holiday Party with all of the above and our parent company CEO played the sax for us. Yes, our own personal sax concert. No, he was okay, but not world class.

    1. Stephanie

      Ha, did you work for the Clinton Foundation?

      On a serious note, that’d be mildly annoying and feel a little egotistical. But I guess there could be worse things, especially if he was decent and it was brief.

      1. Out of State

        It was only a couple of selections, but we had to act like we really wanted him to play. Lots of false modesty, etc. At least we got a good dinner buffet and drinks.

  39. Kat M

    My husband’s company usually does a pretty good job with the family events. Holiday party is fancy and involves no speeches, Multicultural Festival is fun and family-friendly, etc. The Hoe Down got a little weird with the skit where half the characters were cows explaining the Affordable Care Act to each other, but there was enough BBQ and square dancing to offset those 10 minutes of awkwardness, and the evening was a TON of fun.

    My company, on the other hand, thinks that when you have a couple of hundred people receiving awards, you should call out each of their names to come to the front, then call them again separately to hand them their little plaque. Because there’s nothing people love more than watching people you don’t know from locations you don’t work in stand around while their bosses congratulate them. Especially when there’s not even any coffee available. :P

    1. Stephanie

      The Hoe Down got a little weird with the skit where half the characters were cows explaining the Affordable Care Act to each other

      This is an amazing image.

    2. Anon for this

      “My company, on the other hand, thinks that when you have a couple of hundred people receiving awards, you should call out each of their names to come to the front, then call them again separately to hand them their little plaque. ”

      Been there, done that, felt your pain.

  40. Alex

    “It’s how you get sales pitches that are front-loaded with a bunch of extraneous information about the company’s founding, when you really just want to know about the features of the product.”

    Oh, dear. This just reminded me of my former employer’s website. There’s a section on the website telling the company’s “history”. It starts with the purchase of the owner’s first computer, going into detail into the exact specs and cost of the machine and ends before the company proper was founded. The whole thing is accompanied by pictures, not of important moments or of people involved (owner, clients or employees, although again the history ends before these last enter the picture), but of the computers mentioned in the ‘history’.

    The website itself barely mentions the company’s main product; some of my colleagues once built a word cloud of the website. The two biggest entries by far were the owner’s name (understandable albeit somewhat egotistical) and the competitor’s

  41. Letter writer

    Hi, I’m the one who wrote the letter to Alison. I appreciate everyone’s input and I’m glad to see my common sense was in fact correct on this one. I’ve done everything I can do at this point to explain that it is really a bad idea to disguise a meeting as a party and I’ve all but begged to not have a repeat.

    To answer a few comments I’ve seen. We are not a public company so no SEC concerns. We are not really asked to work horrible hours so this is not somehow related to that and we also are not a multi-level marketing company.

    It really is as stated a new director who has “new ideas” and this was one of them. I’m going to continue to fight the good fight and if that fails I will definitely right an update at the end of the year to let everyone know how it goes. With any luck I’ll even have a video of the speech available in case anyone else wants to be invested in our company. :)

  42. Nelly

    Early 1990s – our company forced people to do this. At one point during the ‘long night of boring speeches’, a spouse stood up and threw a lime at the CEO.

    If this had been a Hollywood film everyone would have stood up and started throwing limes in solidarity. As it was we just laughed hard enough to bring the night to a swift, angry end.

  43. Savvy

    The President at my husband’s company does this every year at their holiday party. Once he even had slides! When it is time to sit down everyone now knows to go to the bar and get a drink. Trapped listening to a 45 minute speech about company goals when your glass is empty and you don’t have any food is not fun. Especially when it is your spouses company. And yes many spouses no longer attend. The last time he made a joke about how long he talks – I think he was told to keep it under 15 minutes. Once he starts talking though….

  44. Cassie

    A few years ago, my boss showed powerpoint slides at an alumni reception. I’ve heard the spiel many times (here are stats on the dept, here’s how many students graduate, here are 10 slides alone on awards/honors our faculty have received). It’s like 30 slides total and he tends to read off the slides, or going off on a tangent around slide 5 and then having to blow through the rest of the slides.

    Thankfully, for the past couple events, he settled for making a few large posters to post around the room so people could read the highlights at their leisure. Much much better. (Although making the posters and transporting them to the event is a pain).

  45. Chloe

    I have a feeling I’m a little instiutionalised, this is conpletely normal to me. Granted we get an extra day off for attending and a bloody nice hotel stay (free). I know that helps. I’ve got a lot of years worth of company parties under my belt and it’s all normal to me. Speeches, some enforced fun/ice breakers.

    Office/regional parties are so different, as much booze as we can buy with the allocated budget.

  46. Alison Hendrix

    I bet the troll on the previous post would love to go to this party, invited or not, +1 or not heh heh.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

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