Everyone thinks their annual office holiday party sucks — or so goes the cliché.
I don't know whether that attitude is all-pervasive. But I do know that most of my party-seasoned friends whose occupations don't exactly qualify as living their dreams abhor the approach of the Christmas party. That stands to reason — once you've seen a homeless dude puke on a couple of fist-fighting lesbians and had to crawl out of the tiny window in some ladies' room because the father of the underage girl you were making out with in there sent the cops to the bar, cocktails with the co-workers can't really be considered a blowout.
And I suspect the opposite probably holds true. If you're someone who likes to get loose every once in a while and doesn't get the chance that often (and you actually like at least some of the people at your day gig), then the work-related get-together can be a truly anticipated event. Your significant other can't tell you not to go, and nobody expects you to be operating at full capacity at the job the next day.
Having said that, however, I think it's very important that employers realize that at least some of the people who work for them are more in touch with their inner party demons than the employers themselves. Bosses have a responsibility to try to make sure everybody has a good time; if not, why throw the damn thing at all?
What follows are five tips that you head honchos out there simply cannot afford to ignore when planning the holiday-season shindig. It doesn't have to be an orgy, but it's gotta reflect the fact that you care about your employees and recognize that they deserve to cut loose after the year of toil they've put in.
(P.S. — If you don't care about your employees, and only hold the annual party out of some resent-tinged sense of decorum, fuck you, and I hope one of your underlings gets drunk enough to talk some serious shit about you loudly enough that you hear it.)
Don't throw the office party at the office. It would be better if you had it at your house — hell, it would be better if you had it in a van parked in the office parking lot. Not everybody thinks of the office as a beloved comfortable environment, and there are plenty of places available cheap or for free. You don't even have to officially schedule the party at some venue, if it comes down to that. In cases of extreme miserliness or complete apathy, having everybody meet at an approved neighborhood bar or restaurant where other folks are mingling is still vastly preferable to having caterers set up some chafing dishes in the break room. The worst-case scenario is still pretty damn good: that those employees who have absolutely nothing in common with each other will find somebody they'll want to talk to among the civilians.
Don't throw the office party during office hours. Whoever dreamed up this scam probably got pissed off at the end of A Christmas Carol, and thought Scrooge was a sellout. You're basically telling all of your employees that you know they'd never come to your party if it conflicted with something more interesting, like masturbating to a Seinfeld rerun or maybe doing a little home surgery on that ingrown toenail. Bite the bullet. Give everybody a little time to go home, unwind and maybe get psyched enough to dress up a little. If nobody shows, at least you don't have to wonder anymore whether or not your employees think you're an out-of-touch prick who doesn't know how to party.
Spend more money on good booze than good food. They don't call it a social lubricant for nothing. A sweet spread is never a bad thing, but it won't keep people from bitching about having to drink well vodka, or worse, pay for all of their own drinks. There's nothing wrong with only supplying a limited number of drink tickets per patron, as long as those tickets will get them something tastier than a Busch draft. Besides, the more you spend on hooch, the less you have to spend on food — nobody minds noshing on decent guacamole and hummus after a couple of satisfying beverages.
Provide something to do besides stand around. This is why neighborhood bars are often more than just a small step up from an in-office party that's little more than a mandatory meeting with grub. People bond over pool, darts and video trivia, even if they're not good at them. Especially if they're not good at them. Nothing's worse than a work party where folks talk to each other about work; they do that every weekday of the year. If you're having the party at a venue that doesn't boast at least a couple of entertaining distractions, take things into your own hands and arrange for an imaginative game of bingo or a poker table or for employees to do impressions of other employees — rent a karaoke machine or organize a round of strip Trivial Pursuit, for chrissakes.
Don't assume that speechifying about work bullshit qualifies as "something to do besides stand around." It's perfectly fine to congratulate the masses on a job well done or, if you're a good public speaker, indulge in a few amusing anecdotes or lighthearted jabs at individual employees. But don't talk for half an hour about the numbers. And if you say anything about having — or even hoping — to do better next year, you should probably start fetching your own coffee. And testing it for urine content. And keep doing it until next year's Christmas party goes down as a complete success.