Holiday office parties grow tame
With a series of high-profile workplace sex scandals on their minds, employers are making sure their holiday office parties don’t become part of the problem.
There will be less booze at many. An independent business organization has renewed its annual warning not to hang mistletoe. And some will have party monitors, keeping an eye out for inappropriate behavior.
TV and movies often depict office parties as wildly inappropriate bacchanals or excruciatingly awkward fiascoes, if not, horrifyingly, both. But even a regular office party can be complicated because the rules people normally observe at work don’t quite apply, which makes it easier for people to accidentally cross a line — or try to get away with serious misbehavior. Especially when too much drinking is involved.
According to a survey by Chicago-based consulting company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, only 49 percent of companies plan to serve alcohol at their holiday events. Last year that number was 62 percent, the highest number in the decade the firm has run its survey. The number had been going up each year as the economy improved.
“As soon as you introduce alcohol at an off-site activity, peoples’ guards are dropped,” said Ed Yost, manager of employee relations and development for the Society for Human Resource Management based in Alexandria, Va. “It’s presumed to be a less formal, more social environment. Some people will drink more than they typically would on a Friday night or a Saturday because it’s an open bar or a free cocktail hour.”
The Huffington Post reported Friday that Vox Media, which runs sites including Vox and Recode, won’t have an open bar this year at its holiday party and will instead give employees two tickets they can redeem for drinks. It will also have more food than in years past. The company recently fired its editorial director, Lockhart Steele, after a former employee made allegations of sexual harassment against him.
A survey by Bloomberg Law said those kinds of safeguards are common: while most companies ask bartenders or security or even some employees to keep an eye on how much partygoers are drinking, others limit the number of free drinks or the time they’re available. A small minority have cash bars instead of an open bar.
The National Federation of Independent Businesses recommends all of those steps, and adds another that might seem obvious these days: don’t hang mistletoe. It’s been giving those suggestions for several years.