Parties, Gifts, Celebrations: Do Holidays and The Workplace Mix?

Holiday celebrations can be a good way to demonstrate leadership skills. .

Holiday celebrations can be a good way to demonstrate leadership skills. .

The plot of the newly released, “Office Christmas Party,” starring Jennifer Aniston and Kate McKinnon is apparently a predictable mishmash of outrageous, politically incorrect and illegal antics involving sex, drugs, alcohol and even a reindeer in the bathroom stall. It earned more than $33.3 million in its opening weekend at the box office.

Knowing that your workplace will not likely go as far or do as well, what are the trends for end of the year plans for Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanzaa, and what is protocol for holiday celebrations and traditions in the workplace? How do you set the pace as a woman in leadership this crazy time of year?

“According to global outplacement consultancy firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., 80 percent of companies are planning to host holiday parties this year. Challenger, which conducts an annual holiday party survey, found that more in than 1 in 5 of those companies hosting a holiday party expect to spend more than the previous year,” Kelly Phillips Erb writes in Forbes.

Whether you are the leader, manager or supervisor arranging the event, or are an employee, client or consultant attending at the behest of your boss, know that if you go, how you act when you are there and what people perceive of you, are all super important. As the hostess, who you invite, the tone of party and the long term takeaways from the event can last all year. And even longer. Impressions about us as women in the workplace– and men too– can last far beyond the holidays.

“Generally speaking, an employer can require employee attendance at holiday parties, both during and after work hours. However, to keep employees happy, Erica Intzekostas, an attorney who focuses on corporate law at The Erb Law Firm, PC,  in Pennsylvania, strongly recommends that employers not make attendance mandatory during non-business hours,” Erb writes.

How do you set the pace as a woman in leadership?

The Challenger survey notes that the parties may be grander than usual and you may be able to bring your family members along. But, be careful there, too. If your significant other is likely to drop some gaffes or is not a reliably polite guest, leave him or her at home. Both men and women in the workplace need to be careful about reputations.

Anna Robaton in CBS News writes of the Challenger survey, “More than 42 percent of the companies surveyed will allow spouses or other family members to attend, up from 31 percent last year.”

Robaton writes, “What’s more, alcohol will flow a bit more freely this year — although business etiquette experts say the company holiday party isn’t the time to overindulge. Nearly 62 percent of companies that participated in the Challenger survey plan to serve alcohol at their holiday celebrations, up from 54 percent last year.”

I recall one recent work holiday party where a signature punch that had about six different kinds of alcohol dumped into a large punch bowl resulted in a few of the guests being way more uninhibited than is professional. Bad dancing was involved. It ended up being the kind of party where some guests really hoped no one was posting photos or videos on social media.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have been to company holiday parties so incredibly dull—one was in the lobby of a movie theater serving hot dogs and popcorn—that a little out of the box behavior would have been a relief.

There is no one way to celebrate the holidays with employees, clients and customers, but as a leader, you want to be sure your efforts are appropriate, inclusive and well-executed.

“While spending on holiday parties is on the rise, lavish celebrations may be a thing of the past. Many firms are still taking a relatively low-key approach, and some are also tying in charitable events, such as toy drives or coat collections, said Greg Jenkins, a partner at event-planning firm Bravo Productions,” Robaton writes.

“Companies are still sensitive about the perception of going overboard,” said Jenkins.

“We certainly are seeing a movement toward alternatives to the traditional party,” says Cissy Pau, principal with Clear HR Consulting in Vancouver, according to Joel Schlesinger writing in the Globe and Mail.

You don’t want to be a Grinch or an Ebeneezer Scrooge at your workplace this time of year

“Many forces are at play – everything from concerns about cultural sensitivity to liability over alcohol consumption to budget restraints – yet Ms. Pau says the biggest driver has often been the workers themselves. They’re just not as keen about a big corporate shindig as in Christmases past,” Schlesinger writes.

It probably is best to show up even if it is for a short amount of time. Make an appearance, greet the host and smile.

Career coach Joan Tabb writes in her Career blog specifically advice for women in the workplace: “I’ve also heard the disaster stories at company parties. Typically they involved alcohol and people losing their regular inhibitions that they bring to their sober work lives, and clothing can play a role in sending certain messages, non verbal messages.”

Tabb writes, “It’s not just what you wear. It’s how you behave. Please monitor your drinking and your comments carefully. Perhaps have an agreement with a trusted co-worker to watch over one another.”

And if your workplace or organization is not hosting an organized event, but you do want to acknowledge the holidays, perhaps you want to consider non-denominational holiday cards given to everyone in the organization. For this one, you have to be sure to include everyone. Your exclusions will be noticed.

If your workplace has a gift-giving swap, make sure that you follow price limit guidelines and offer an appropriate gift. Many of us would find it impossible to give a holiday gift to all co-workers, so perhaps what you can do is bring in a batch of cookies to share, a special fruitcake or some other holiday edible for everyone to share.

Whether you are the leader of the team, an entrepreneur, or someone rising in her career, as women in the workplace, you don’t want to be a Grinch or an Ebeneezer Scrooge (before the visits from all the ghosts) at your workplace this  time of year. But you do want to be seen as a leader who can be joyful and inclusive in all year-end festivities whether they are lavish or just low-key.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon