reader update: the company with too many parties and gifts

Remember the reader last month whose company had constant, unending parties that employees were expected to attend and contribute to, as well as multiple gift-giving occasions to participate in and even float-making contests? The letter-writer was annoyed and concerned about the impact on her own finances and everyone’s productivity. Here’s her update:

Just wanted to update you. I actually spoke to my boss regarding these parties. Since she is chairman of one of our company-sponsored parties, she didn’t have too much to say. She did advise me to make an appearance at the company-sponsored parties at minimum and bow out at the extra showers and birthday parties. She also said management was aware of the repeat offenders who always volunteer for the extra parties and those who are left with the extra load.

Additionally, this past Friday my company laid off 10% of the workforce. Fortunately, I was not affected directly, but a couple employees were from my immediate team and therefore workload has increased. Coincidently, there was a high percentage of party volunteers laid off.

Thanks again for your column and advice.

Interesting update! First, I’m sorry to hear about the layoffs. That’s a tough situation for everyone, those laid off and those left behind.

But oh does this raise more issues! Management “is aware of” the people who always volunteered to work on the parties and those who chose to focus on work instead, but yet they still created an environment like this in the first place and allowed it to continue. Ultimately, it’s not the fault of the party aficionados; it’s the fault of the company’s management. If the company doesn’t see that, that’s troubling.

And while this level of distraction from work would be a bad idea anywhere, it’s especially questionable at a company that is (apparently) financially struggling. If indeed the layoffs indicate tight finances, I’ll be curious to know if that changes the party situation. It certainly should…

{ 21 comments… read them below }

  1. jmkenrick*

    That’s kind of a bummer, becuase I bet many of those party aficionados thought they were just behaving in a way that supported the company culture, and didn’t realize the affect that might have on them come layoffs.

      1. A Bug!*

        Completely agree. Making an office culture where everybody’s invited and encouraged to participate in these extra activities, and then secretly monitoring that participation for later punishment?

        That is the absolutely opposite of a morale-booster if I’ve ever seen one. If I were one of the remaining employees I sure wouldn’t be volunteering for ANYTHING after that.

        It’s a pretty sucky situation where you get punished for something by the very people who invited you to do it in the first place. (The movie “Horrible Bosses” comes to mind. A Horrible Boss pressures his employee into drinking at work and then later denies him a promotion on the basis that he was drinking at work.)

        1. Anonymouse*

          That’s really awful. I think one of the most destructive things you can do to an employee is to create a sense that there is a clear path to success, and then pepper it with landmines.

          Now there will be terrible uncertainty. Uncertainty can bring a business to it’s knees.

    1. RHIT in Vegas*

      At my last job, the party enthusiasts took an hour to set up, a couple hours for the party itself, and forty-five minutes to an hour to clean up. Close to half a day’s productivty lost right there. Maybe these party people saw the parties not as a way to fit in but a way to work part-days and get paid for working whole days.

      1. A Bug!*

        I don’t doubt that in the slightest, but when the employer’s giving the impression that this is acceptable but then later treating it as if it’s not, that’s pretty slimy on the part of the employer. It’s borderline entrapment:

        “Hey, everybody, we’re having an event, signup sheets are on the wall over there if you want to help!”

        Two days later…

        “Everyone who signed up on this sheet is fired because you don’t have enough work to do if you have time to help with events.”

        1. Laura L*

          Yeah, this is horrible. It’s making me angry.

          If you create this environment, you shouldn’t punish people who want to be involved. Some people just like being involved in stuff like this. Others may have thought it would help them when promotion time rolled around.

  2. A Second Heather*

    Wow. This is the reason parodies like The Office get made. I always though the party-planning rivalries and Margarita-swilling karaoke fests portrayed on the show were far-fetched. But this place seems like a carbon-copy of that environment. I wonder if the managers get sugar rushes and start running around the office only to crash hours later fall asleep at their desks.
    If you are in a situation that allows, I would start job-hunting. The poor management combined with lay-offs would make me very wary of continuing to work there. That said, everyone has a unique situation and it isn’t always as easy as a pat “get out of there”. Good luck with everything!

  3. Joey*

    There is a silver lining here- it looks like the company ultimately values productivity most. I’m sure that’s somewhat of a relief to the employees that would rather get work done than waste time at fluff events. It sounds like some of these party planners skirted work with these parties. Granted that’s not the right way to handle performance issues but it is a common one.

    1. Mike C.*

      Wait, why are you blaming people for doing these parties when they were encouraged to the point of requirement by management?

  4. Ask a Manager* Post author

    All this is especially disturbing because the company made people feel that their participation in this stuff was borderline-mandatory!

    1. A Second Heather*

      Absolutely! Any mention of Shoe-box floats at a future job interview and I am running for the hills! In all seriousness though, this really is disturbing.

      1. Jamie*

        It sounds to me like some revisionist history on the part of the management.

        Like it was a good idea and rewarded until it wasn’t, then punished.

        Talk about vile management.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I suppose it’s also possibly that it’s less evil than it sounds. For instance, maybe the management did decide they’d lay off the people who were accomplishing less (a reasonable decision under normal circumstances) and hasn’t connected the dots that all these parties are the reason why. Not making the connection would make them ridiculously blind, of course.

          1. AD*

            Correlation is not causation. It’s likely that the people who volunteered as party people were, on the whole, more relationship-oriented than task oriented. They could have, even without the parties, been the type of people to spend too much time socializing anyway.

  5. Eric*

    OP Wrote “She also said management was aware of the repeat offenders who always volunteer for the extra parties and those who are left with the extra load. ”

    I interpreted this to mean that management would throw an extra party just for those who didn’t go to enough to begin with.

  6. Miss L*

    My limited experience with this has been that companies who put so much emphasis on “fun” usually don’t have their essentials in order, like payroll, human resources, benefits, or accounts receivable.

    A few months ago, I interviewed for a job and made it to the final round. The company was much like the OP’s: constant drinking, and monthly parties for no reason, where each employee was expected to contribute a not-insignificant sum to the festivities.

    The position for which I interviewed was eliminated (“budget shortfall”), so ultimately, no one was hired. Since then, I’ve been keeping tabs on the company through a friend who’s in the know, and learned that half the staff each year is either fired or quits, and they’ve never managed to keep a single client long term. Believe me, I’m grateful to not be working there – and I say this as an energetic extrovert who gleefully attends parties well into adulthood.

    I’d advise the OP to start looking for a new job immediately.

  7. Camellia*

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but if the majority of the employees attended/participated in these parties, then wouldn’t it follow that most who were laid off would be those who, oh, I don’t know, attended/participated in these parties?

    That sounds more like the law of averages and not some secret way of punishing people for their party-participation.

    1. Charles*



      ” [Boss] is chairman of one of our company-sponsored parties, she didn’t have too much to say. She did advise me to make an appearance at the company-sponsored parties at minimum and bow out at the extra showers and birthday parties.”

      Isn’t that a little like saying attend MY party to make MY party look good; but skip the others?

      Yea, I’ll agree with the others here who say it might be time to start looking for another job.

  8. Ann O'Nemity*

    Ugh, my company has a party problem too. (Well, I think it’s a problem. Some people LOVE the parties. Huge waste of time and company resources in my opinion.) Part of my issue is that many of these parties are showers – and gifts are expected. So not only do I miss an hour of work and have to stay an hour late to make up the work that I missed, I also have to go shopping and buy a damned gift. Unfortunately, the company culture really seems to expect participation and I haven’t seen anyone successfully find a way to get out of this type of crap.

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