my team’s holiday parties are rather feeble

A reader writes:

Am I reacting unreasonably? I have been at my job for about 10 years now with the same department head. When I first started working here, we had a potluck holiday gathering at an outdoor terrace on campus with just our department. It was kind of fun, but some people complained about “the sappy trees” and “dirty chairs” so the next year, our manager suggested we go out to lunch, which we did. It was nice, but the people in our department don’t really get along well, so it was a bit awkward. I had made up some holiday-themed games (name the reindeers, what do the eight lights of Hanukkah represent) and a prize for the person who got the most correct. That seemed to be the highlight of the event. (I am simply a staff member, not involved with the management or supervision of our department.)

The next year, our manager invited us to a potluck at his house (he lives in a remote part of town) on a weekend evening. I attended, but about half of the department did not. The following year, we were invited for cocktails and food at a nearby bar after work. I and another employee got there about 10 minutes after the starting time, and all the food was gone. The manager purchased one order of french fries for the latecomers, but that was it. Then there was the time our staff assistant arranged another potluck in a conference room. This was very depressing, more like a department meeting with food. There were games, but it was nearly impossible to get anyone to participate; they are all sticks-in-the-mud.

For the past three years, we have done nothing. This year, I inquired around the second week of December if we were going to have a holiday party, and the staff assistant replied that the department head “hadn’t had enough time to plan something” so maybe we would do something after the holiday break. Just yesterday we got an invitation to go bowling one night after work later this month.

I have been frustrated for years about the lack of team-building in our department, so you probably think I should be glad that we’re finally invited to get together, but in actuality, I am annoyed at the thought of taking my personal time after work to celebrate the holidays, which have long passed. In my fantasy world, I believe that if there was strong leadership, we could actually interact and be a strong team, so I’m not one to just give up hope easily, although I do think at this point with the people involved that it’s never going to happen. On the other hand, I’m so tired of the lack of leadership and mismanagement of our department, that I just want to decline immediately. I know that if I had not inquired about a party, this wouldn’t even be happening, so it feels a little disingenuous to decline, but shouldn’t the holiday party come before the holidays? Shouldn’t staff appreciation be genuine? Maybe my bad attitude about our leadership is tainting my thought process, or perhaps I’m right in feeling slighted. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, but I would appreciate your insight to the situation and advice for how to proceed.

Well, for what it’s worth, the majority of your department doesn’t really seem to want these holiday events. There have been complaints and lackluster attendance at previous ones, apparently no real push to schedule something the last three years when there wasn’t anything, and a general lack of interest. I don’t think it’s reasonable to call people sticks-in-the-mud because they don’t want to play games at a department potluck in the middle of the workday; that’s not everyone’s bag.

It sounds like they put something together this year when you suggested it, so that was pretty responsive of them, and they’re wisely trying something different than the events that haven’t gone over so well in years past … although I’m skeptical that this group is going to enjoy bowling either. I’m not sure why it’s making you feel unappreciated — you spoke up and indicated you were hoping for an event this year and they scheduled one. (And I don’t object to it being scheduled in January. Sometimes offices do that because December tends to be so busy for people that January ends up being a more realistic time for people to attend. In fact, a very well-run client of mine just had theirs last week for this reason.)

I think what’s happening here is that you’re working with a group of people who just aren’t that into these events. And that’s fine; some people like this stuff, and some don’t. Most commonly, the people who don’t like these events find themselves working with people who do, and have to go along with the majority’s wishes. In this case, you’ve found yourself working with people who aren’t terribly enthused, and you probably need to accept that the majority of your coworkers just feel differently about it than you do.

It sounds like the real problem is that your department is badly managed (not because of these events, but because you specifically cite lack of leadership and mismanagement). If so, that’s a problem. But it’s not one that can be addressed by better holiday events or team-building activities. No management problem in the world has ever been solved by a holiday party or a team-building event, believe me. That needs to be addressed by the people running your department, and the people they report to — but it probably won’t be, because it sounds like it’s been allowed to go on for years. That means that your employer, for whatever reason, is happy with the status quo. And that in turn means that your choices are to accept it and find a way to live with it reasonably happily or to change jobs and go somewhere else. (After 10 years, it’s not crazy to think about moving on anyway.)

But it’s not about the holiday parties. Let the holiday parties go; this group doesn’t really want one.

{ 62 comments… read them below }

  1. matcha123

    It might be best to just let the party fall to the wayside.
    But, a January bowling event doesn’t necessarily have to be thought of as a “late holiday party.” You could think of it as a party to welcome in the new year.
    Who knows, maybe a January event could be the thing that people latch onto because they have more time than at the end of the year and they are looking for a little pick-me-up?

    1. ExceptionToTheRule

      Our company just had our first holiday part in probably 8 or 10 years. It was a bowling event, on a weekend in January. There was plenty of “oh, my god, bowling?!” beforehand, but it was a blast and people spent the better part of a week talking about how much fun they’d had. Of course there were people who didn’t go for various reasons, all of which were their own business and nobody remarked on who was there and who wasn’t.

    2. LawBee

      I would love it if our firm rescheduled our annual party to January. Or May! When it’s not freezing at the main office and I don’t have to dig out my puffy coat!

    3. College Career Counselor

      At my current employer, we have a gathering of the entire department (pizza, veggies, drinks) and can bring families to it. It’s held the friday of the first week classes are back in session as a “ring in the new year” event, because we’re all far too busy for an end of the semester holiday celebration.

      It’s held at the college pub, hosted by the dean of the department, and the president drops by for a beer and some conversation. It’s very low-key and only a couple of hours (starts before the end of the work day and goes an hour or so past). It turned out just fine, although it wasn’t as well-attended as in previous years because people were sick, out on parental leave, etc.

      Now, I like a good party as much as or more than the next person, but NOT at work. This is because I believe that social events at the office are still part of “work,” so they’re not nearly as relaxing or enjoyable as a purely social function would be. I was fine with 90 minutes of pizza and small talk with colleagues. But. I would also be totally fine with (and possibly prefer) exactly nothing, just as happened with the OP’s department the last three years. What the OP describes as preferred activities (games, prizes, potluck) sounds like a lot of planning (particularly if I have to bring something, and I don’t cook) and “structured merriment” that doesn’t appeal to me much and frankly could be excruciating if I didn’t get along with my colleagues.

      There can be a lot of social parties in the higher education world, such as ice cream socials, pancake breakfasts (although that’s usually a midnight student finals thing, so I can beg off), all-college picnics, holiday potlucks, secret santas (we did that this year, and it was awkward), birthday celebrations, etc. I’ll freely admit that I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to work parties. The more loosely structured, the better. That way, I can drop in for a quick drink and a snack, talk with folks and then either get back to work or, you know, GO HOME.

        1. Connie-Lynne

          I love “structured merriment,” it describes some of these parties so well!

          My husband and I call it “mandatory fun” because of an awful email from an old CTO of mine.

          1. Melissa

            I used to work in Res Life and our semi-official term for it was “fundatory.” It was an event that RAs were required to attend but was supposed to be a team-building fun activity.

    4. ThursdaysGeek

      You don’t have to look very far to find a holiday or several in every month of the year. So if you’re that intent on it being a holiday party, do so, whether it be Martin Luther King Jr Day or Punch the Clock Day. (Although, I agree with Alison that this isn’t the problem at all.)

      1. Lauren

        NOOOOO don’t do this!! At my last job, we had a (forced participation) party for pretty much every holiday. Super Bowl? Chili competition. Mardi gras? Fat Tuesday lunch. Cinco de Mayo? Mexican-themed potluck. I liked my coworkers, but it was totally & completely onerous.

        1. ThursdaysGeek

          But the problem is the forced participation not the holiday celebrations, right? If some of your co-workers wanted to celebrate National Hot Dog Day but you didn’t have to join in, wouldn’t that be ok? Providing, of course, that they don’t have a special 2-hour lunch for every holiday they can find online, and you’re left keeping up with the work that they’re not doing.

    5. Cath in Canada

      We had our regular holiday party during the second week of December, but last week we all got an invitation to a random “beat the winter blues!” party that’s taking place in a couple of weeks. (A huge project’s winding up, and everyone’s being included in the celebration). I think it’s a great idea – I had to miss a couple of non-work parties in December because I was double- or even triple-booked every weekend. January is much quieter.

    6. MK

      I prefer these “welcome the new year” parties that happen in January or early February. Before and during the holidays, most people have many events to attend or look forward to, but the period after January 7th tends to be anti-climactic and feel a bit depressive. It’s just the right time to have a bit of fun.

    7. Non Profit Anon

      I currently work at a church. We postponed our staff holiday party until this last week because the Christmas season is so busy for us. We called it and Epiphany party and exchanged gifts at a fun restaurant in town.

  2. Former Diet Coke Addict

    Sure, staff appreciation should be genuine. But in many places it isn’t, and encouraging holiday games and parties won’t help. It sounds like the issue of the holiday party here has gotten mixed up with poor leadership in general and staff appreciation specifically, so you may want to step back and disentangle the different strands here.

    1. Lamington

      Agreed. One of my friends told me about his Christmas party and it sounded awful. His boss scheduled it at his house for 2 hours right after work, when he lives across the city and only gave them 15 min to leave “early.” then closer to the end, he remind his guests they needed to leave soon. he had the vibe he was forced to throw the party.

    2. OP

      That’s a great word, disentangle. Yes, you are right, the two issues are intertwined and I need separate them. The real issue is the poor leadership, so I have decided to go bowling and enjoy myself with the people that choose to go. I think not going would be a missed opportunity to share a good time with like-minded coworkers. These are the people who make working with a bad manager more bearable, so I don’t want to alienate myself from them.

  3. soitgoes

    Does OP work at a college or university? Depending on what department he/she is in, they might be working alongside a lot of adjuncts who split their time between teaching at one or two other schools. The department/school might be completely closed during that three-week break between semesters. We’re also talking about academics who don’t work a typical 9-5 schedule and who are scrambling to grade hundreds of papers during the holiday party season. Given the budgeting issues that are plaguing colleges right now, especially when it comes to adjunct staff, I’m not sure it’s wise to keep pushing for department funds to be spent on a party that people clearly don’t want.

    Of course, this all falls by the wayside if I misinterpreted the clues and this isn’t actually about a university staff.

  4. BRR

    A January event might get better attendance as a lot of people take off in December.

    The thing I noticed is a lot of these events are outside office hours. You said yourself the people in your department don’t really get along. They are not going to want to spend extra time with people they don’t like.

    Also the parties all seem kind of sad. Like there is one half-inflated balloon and watered down booze with cold popcorn. It doesn’t sound very inviting (pat of that being if they’re sad in the past people expect that of future gatherings).

    1. KarenT

      They do all seem kind of sad, don’t they? I think it boils down to what Alison said: the OP is working with people who just aren’t into those kinds of events.

  5. Renegade Rose

    My office does our holiday party in January because we work in fundraising for a non-profit and Devember is our busiest time of the year. At least in my opinion, we are a well-run department that is just unusually busy during December soliciting gifts, processing gifts, Etc.

  6. Adara

    The owner of the company I work for has always hosted a staff party at his place the last weekend in January. He does an outdoor oyster roast with bonfires, hayrides, etc. He provides beverages, beer and wine, and a few sides. Everyone brings a dish or other beverage to share and attendance is always good. After the holiday rush, people are looking forward to a January get together. The weather warms up a bit, so hanging out around the fire is nice and there’s usually some board game being played indoors. I’ve always had a wonderful time!

    It’s a great way for the staff to socialize and have a good time without all the holiday pressure. Spouses are welcome too, so people are likely to stay a while.

  7. Ann O'Nemity

    A poorly done employee engagement event can actually hurt staff morale. It sounds like that is what’s been happening. When the staff doesn’t respond well to the holiday party, less effort and resources are put into the following year’s event. And then it just starts snowballing.

    1. Katie the Fed

      Yeah, it sounds like they were crappy events from the get go. The boss had a potluck at his house? Buddy, no – you spring for the food. That’s just bad etiquette in general. If you’re hosting, then be a proper host.

      Either do it right or don’t do it at all. Since they don’t seem inclined to do it right, then they should just go with not doing it at all.

    2. OP

      This is exactly what has happened. But, I think I need to stop with the expectations and just accept that our manager doesn’t care about morale.

  8. Mabel

    I used to work with a good sized group of folks who were a lot of fun to work with. We had holiday (and non-holiday) get-togethers at local restaurants with finger food and a cash bar. They were really fun, but then the team got smaller and smaller, and the manager was transferred. The new manager is several states away (I’ve never met him in person), and the parties stopped. I suspect that my previous manager may have been paying for them himself with only a little help from company funds. Now I’m on a team that is located in two different cities (not mine), and while I have been to dinners and parties with them when I’m in one of the two cities on business, it doesn’t happen often, and I miss socializing with my current team. But I can appreciate that not everyone likes socializing with work colleagues.

    1. Bend & Snap

      I’m far more likely to go and enjoy a spontaneous drink or casual lunch with coworkers–it’s the “forced fun” part that gets me, but my previous job was like a romper room. Gun to your head to go to ice cream socials, drink beer at the office at 4pm when I really just wanted to finish my work and go home, etc.

      1. Melissa

        Yeah, I love to grab a drink with my coworkers after work but the forced or semi-forced work parties are just not fun.

  9. Christian Troy

    In the future, I’d probably poll people and get their feedback about these types of events and go from there. If there is no interest, I probably wouldn’t continue organizing them and look for other ways to promote team building within the department.

    1. WednesdaysMisfit

      A couple of years ago, I was voluntold to lead our party planning committee. For our holiday celebration, I sent out an anonymous survey asking what their preference was – a casual, catered lunch followed by the afternoon off or a lunch off-site followed by an activity.

      90% of the staff opted for the casual lunch and time off. I was not one bit surprised but when I shared these findings with leadership, they were shocked. I reminded them that people like free time off especially around the holidays.

      1. Goldie

        Yup, in my opinion, nothing says “employee appreciation” like a holiday bonus and an early-release day!

        Although I did work in environments where people loved socializing outside of work, loved holiday parties and other activities. Mostly those were small companies where most employees were people in their 20s who didn’t have families yet. (or who, like me back in those days, had very young kids at home and wanted to enjoy some adult company.) I’ve noticed that, the older the average age in the workplace, the less people care about socializing at work, and especially about socializing with coworkers after work – just because their other options – activities with their spouses, kids, grandkids, outside-of-work friends – look so much more attractive and more beneficial in the long run.

        Only other place I have ever seen where everyone was big on work parties was a small college town, where people working at the college had no one to socialize with except each other. They were happy to have department parties after work that ran till midnight, because, if left to their own devices, they’d hang out with their coworkers anyway.

      2. AW

        For our holiday celebration, I sent out an anonymous survey asking what their preference was

        OP, if you decide to do anything about the parties/events, then do this. If you ask what people would like to do then you may find something most people can agree on.

      3. Lynn Whitehat

        That is awesome! I’m glad you did that survey. Somehow I’m not surprised that management was surprised.

      4. Melissa

        it’s kind of funny to me that your management was so surprised by this. Who forgets that people like free time off?

  10. Amber Rose

    Some people are hard core about keeping work and life separate. My current office we all get along really well and are a close knit team… but nobody wants to attend functions or do anything special.

    At my last job we’d have silly events and stuff and I’d throw myself into them because I wasn’t the only one having fun (I totally won the costume contest every time and it was awesome). Here I’m content with water cooler chat and the occasional donut breakfast in the boardroom. It’s not personal, just personality.

    I do prefer the fun events though. I hope my next job is more upbeat.

  11. KarenT

    OP, based on your letter, I get the impression you are putting way too much stock into these kinds of events. It seems like you equate them with appreciation (like, if the company really appreciated me they would dazzle me with an epic Christmas party, and how dare people not love the games I created). It also seems like you think an awesome Christmas party will improve morale or fix management problems, when it just won’t.

    And I do sympathize. I love a good Christmas party and my company used to wine and dine us and they’ve really scaled back.

    1. OP

      You are correct. I think it’s because there is no appreciation at any other time of the year, so when it comes time to the holidays, which is when management usually does something special, that it would be nice to get some acknowledgement of appreciation. It’s especially difficult to hear about the other departments and their lunches, parties, etc.

  12. Cheesecake

    Another thing is you can never ever make everyone happy with these parties. People always tend to complain. We once had a low profile party – people complained it was not festive enough. We then help a fab party – people complained it was too fancy. I won’t take a party as an ultimate morale and mgmt indicator.

  13. limenotapple

    Honestly, if the party for work is outside of work hours, especially if it is on the weekend, I will never be excited about going. I like to keep my weekends work-free (unless I am needed for Actual Work). I can understand that others might not feel this way, but for me personally, I don’t want to stop by free time and get ready and go to something that includes work people, etc. I like my coworkers and my job just fine, but I am definitely protective of my free time.

  14. Seal

    Have you spoken directly with your department head about this? It could well be that they aren’t against the idea of a holiday party per se but don’t want to have to deal with the details. Perhaps they would be willing to hand off party planning to you or a group of like-minded colleagues.

    That said, keep in mind that sometimes actions speak louder than words. Your coworkers may genuinely not want to have an office holiday party at all or may only want something low-key (i.e. no games or presents) – you need to respect that going forward. When I took over the department I manage several years ago we agreed as a group that we would stick to potluck lunches at the end of each semester in lieu of celebrating every single birthday and holiday. Despite everyone agreeing at the outset that this would be a majority rules decision, the one staff member who was very invested in individual parties and gift-giving was quite put out. After openly pouting about it at every holiday for a couple of years, much to the annoyance of her coworkers one Christmas she passed out gifts. This lead to a very awkward and unpleasant conversation about respecting boundaries and office norms. Don’t be that person.

  15. hayling

    OP It sounds like the problem isn’t the parties, it’s your company’s management and the morale of your coworkers. The “lack of leadership” and “coworkers not getting along” is a much bigger problem (and unfortunately something that you probably can’t fix in your position). I agree that they’re not putting any effort into the holiday parties, but it’s a symptom of a bigger problem.

  16. Alter_ego

    I’m surprised that the timing of the party this year is an issue. My company’s party is this Thursday. But I guess we don’t call it a holiday party. We have a summer outing and a winter outing. I think the timing of our winter outing is a combination of the fact that it’s cheaper to do it now than in December when ever other office in the business district is doing their parties, and because we have a couple of Jehovah’s witnesses working for us, and I doubt they’d be able to come to party in late December, even if it was called a “winter outing” *wink wink nudge nudge*. They truly are devout, those kinds of loopholes don’t really work for them.
    In stead of being angry that I don’t get a real holiday party, because it isn’t until late January, I’m just grateful my company respects it’s employees enough to think about how a holiday party would affect some of the team.

    1. Connie-Lynne

      Yep! I’ve worked for a few places that do a “Winter Event” in Jan/Feb. So nice not to have to sacrifice my December holiday pre-prep time for work socializing , plus, it makes it easier to keep the parties from accidentally getting religious.

  17. fposte

    Aw, OP, I’m not even a party person and I feel for you. You’d like a nice get-together that reflects the good spirit of teamwork you all feel–and you’d like to be able to feel that good spirit of teamwork.

    I do see them as two different things, though; I think even if your group had great teamwork throughout the year, it’s not really a party place. That’s disappointing if you like a nice holiday party, but maybe you can find something that sparkles up the season for you a little without requiring participation from your co-workers.

    The disappointment in your leadership is another, more serious matter. If you separate it out from the holiday party issue, which I wouldn’t accept as a leadership issue, how bad is it? Is it getting worse, or has it stayed about the same? Is it a concern worth raising, or even leaving over?

    1. OP

      We don’t have good teamwork, and the holiday party is simply a magnified look at the fact our leadership doesn’t value ‘good spirit’ and comraderie. You know how people get really depressed at the holidays? It’s like that. I feel the desire for management to build a strong team all year long, so it stings when the opportunity that is the most obvious passes by.

  18. Sigrid

    Personally, I would have loathed a party with the kinds of activities you describe (trivia with prizes? Very much not my thing) and would have pushed hard for the cessation of all holiday parties after that. Please understand that what is fun for you may be miserable for your co-workers, and such opinions are absolutely valid and don’t make them “sticks-in-the-mud”. Parties may just not be your department’s thing.

    That said, poor management is another thing entirely, and what you should be focused on going forward.

    1. Glorified Plumber

      Totally agree Sigrid; trivia and prizes would have made me hate the event too. I’d probably skip too… or at least want to.

      OP, I think that there are just folks out there who have no interest in any kind of camaraderie, or team building, or even interaction outside of work. It isn’t because they are bad people, or because they don’t like you, or because they suck, they just… do not care. Work is work, and when it is over, it is over.

      We have a “team” of about 60 people here on site, and management routinely attempts to schedule these kinds of “relaxation” events, or “appreciation” events. My “group” in particular consisted of 7-8 people out of 13-14 who really adopted a “So, this is a work event outside of work hours that I am not paid for? Is it mandatory? Do I have to go? I just want to go home.” I have to look at them with a straight face and say, “It is NOT mandatory, but, if you want to be included politically in the goings on out here, you should consider attend.”

      They respond immediately with, “Ohh, GlorifiedPlumber, I don’t care about politics, my career advancement is fine, and I REALLY hate it out here onsite and want nothing more than to go back to the mothership. So, I will be skipping this event in order to go home instead.”

      Management could NOT figure out why people were skipping these things… and were downright offended by it each time. It was REALLY hard for me to explain to the lead PM that, “No one cares… they hate this client, they hate it onsite, they hate coming to work every day, and this after hours event is less interesting than just going home and having a night off. So when you schedule something after hours, that they will not be paid for, they do not see it as appreciation, they see it as one more crappy task for this crappy onsite appointment; they just want to go home.”

      Some people, which OP it sounds like you coworkers are of this sort, are just not into it. It isn’t wrong. It is pretty common.

      1. Annie

        Agreed. I actually enjoy my job and I like my coworkers, but I can’t think of many things I’d like less than having to spend my evenings or weekends “socializing” with them, especially off the clock. Work is work, and I have a lot of commitments, activities, and people in my personal life that I’d prefer to prioritize during my down time.

    2. OP

      Thank you for providing your perspective. It never occurred to me that someone would ‘loathe’ playing trivia.

  19. Ann Furthermore

    It sounds like there are a few people in the OP’s group that enjoy the holiday events, but the larger share can take them or leave them. I would suggest that the OP and those who do enjoy this type of thing just put together something informal on their own. Let everyone know that, “Hey, we’re meeting at That Bar on Thursday night around 6, and anyone who wants to join us is welcome.” Then just go, have a good time, and not worry about anyone else since they were invited. It would be on your own dime, of course.

    1. Jennifer

      Yeah, I think the number one problem here is that your coworkers really don’t wanna hang out socially. If they can’t stand each other, that makes sense. I’d give up on this party idea or go with Ann’s suggestion.

  20. Not So NewReader

    OP, the one flicker of hope I see in all this is that if someone mentions party, the boss does try to drum up something. Maybe it’s time to mention things to the boss what will make a difference in the work place, find out how agreeable he is to these things. I think I would shift to that focus and let go of the party idea.
    OTH, maybe you could ask if everyone could leave early the day before a holiday instead of asking for a party.

  21. Kathryn

    I think the issue here really is that your coworkers don’t like each other.

    My department has successfully done pretty much everything you’ve mentioned and had fun with it. Except the potluck at boss’ house thing, when boss throws a party, which they do a couple of times a year, they do the food. Potlucks are for one of the big conference rooms and the only time one of those went sad was when we were all in the middle of some terrible crisis or another and no one had the spare energy to care about bringing things. Management deduced the issue, switched to ordering in for a couple of lunches, and got strict about sending people home early on Friday whenever possible for a few months. (And for some of the worst hit teams, sending people home early whenever possible at all. We practiced some enforced vacation this year.)

    The thing about team building get togethers is that they don’t actually build teams unless there is something to build on. My department does frequent after hours at the local watering hole, and people who don’t drink or who have children or other usual reasons for skipping out will choose to attend because we like spending time together. We do a bunch of different things, during office hours and outside of them (though weekends are extremely rare) on an opt in basis. Some of it is management – these things can take work time and some are paid for/supported by work funds – but some of it is just the team, doing what the team does.

    It sounds like your management is trying to be responsive, but they may also be being responsive to everyone else who doesn’t want a party and prefers to just work and go home. Its not a terrible preference, but it is a different vibe to a team than what you’d prefer.

  22. C Average

    You know, I’ve noticed ever since I was a kid that there are people who LOVE organized activities and there are people who really dislike them.

    Throughout childhood, it seemed to me that organized group activities were a thing one had to endure as part of the growing-up process: the choosing up teams in PE, the youth group game night, the party games for people’s birthdays, the slate of activities at summer camp, the lessons in this and the programs in that. So much structure, so much having other people tell you something was fun and having to go along with it to be polite.

    Adulthood seemed to me this glorious destination where I could associate with people I liked and do things I liked and spend the bulk of my time goofing around in my own chosen fashion: reading books, going running or walking, window-shopping, people-watching, traveling. I wouldn’t have to pretend that beach volleyball or Catchphrase or whatever was my cup of tea.

    I hate these kinds of things, and I especially hate them at work. I do see value in knowing my colleagues as people, and am happy to have water-cooler chats with them or work on some cross-functional project that has us all swapping stories at midnight in the war room. In other words, we’re bonding and it’s happening organically, without the assistance of some facilitator or organizer. I’m not six years old and I don’t want to play board games or do cutesy icebreakers with people I only know because we’re all paid to work together. It’s infantilizing, not fun.

  23. Sally

    Hope this isn’t from one of my staff — our bowling party is tonight!

    But honestly, if the bosses have tried different types of parties over the years and gotten nothing but complaints from the employees they’re trying to appreciate, why on earth would they keep on trying? Clearly, a party isn’t going to make people happy. If that were me I would take the staff reaction and decide it isn’t worth my time or energy to arrange events that nobody enjoys.

    Seriously though, I have my department plus key players from other teams coming out for pizza and bowling tonight — we all get along though, so I’m thinking it will be a fun time!

  24. Concerned

    At my former company, they resurrected the holiday office party at an upstairs bar. Its second year, they asked us to pay a small amount toward the cost. Needless to say, I passed on going.

  25. AcademiaNut

    I love the idea of a late January non-holiday party, when people are less overbooked and stressed with end-of-year deadlines.

    I find I tend to enjoy parties at one of two extremes. General social events, where refreshments are provided and we’re free to eat and chat, and focussed activities, like bowling. Games, contests, quizzes, icebreakers, talent shows and the like I find awkward and tedious. They generally drag on too long, and it’s often obvious that the person organizing it is the one having the most fun. I’m also not a fan trying to transport a tray of food on a crowded subway for an in-office potluck.

    But if the management is bad, and morale is low, and your coworkers don’t really like each other, then social events aren’t going to help things, and may make things worse, if people are feeling obliged to spend their off-work hours paying money to hang out with people they don’t like.

    In the OP’s case, as they were the ones to agitate for a party, and there’s a reasonable chance that the party was arranged due to them, they’re stuck attending or risking looking bad.

  26. Glennis

    Where I last worked, we had a kind of office vs. shop floor social divide. The shop floor guys were mostly African-American and Latino, blue collar, male. The office staff were mostly female, white and African-American. For our holiday party, usually the guys would organize a barbecue out on the loading dock, and invite the office staff. It was fun, casual, and it gave the guys a sense of ownership and agency. The office staff were treated like guests. The guys pitched in to buy the food, and did the cooking – usually chicken or carne asada. Sometimes one guy would bring fish he caught over the weekend, or another guy would bring home-made salsa. I think when the office staff went back to the office, there may have been a little clandestine drinking, but everything was kept pretty hush hush.

    Then there was a departmental re-org, and we got a new boss. That year, she decided that instead of the barbecue, we were going to have an “ice cream social” in the conference room during the afternoon coffee break. What a disaster! First, none of the women in the office wanted to eat ice cream on a winter afternoon; the guys were hungry for real food. The guys also felt weird and out of place in the admin offices; there weren’t enough chairs to sit in for all of them, and people had to stand around with cold bowls of ice cream in their hands. Office staff all agreed it was unsuccessful – except for the New Boss, who thought it went great.

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