It’s that time of year when the mandatory memo gets issued by the HRD. He or she wishes us to have a great time at the office Christmas party, and then proceeds to list 20 policies that are vague but all encompassing, to make sure we all stay sober, respectful and scared of breaking the rules in case a transgression lands us in the HR office on the coming Monday.
I miss the old days. When the office Christmas party was the one event where you could let loose after a year of frustration. To let off some steam. To effect some change in an unconventional way.
Like when prim and proper and dour faced Sharon in accounts had a half glass of vino go straight to her head and wound up dancing on a table. Great set of legs, great dancer, and as it turns out, was actually a really nice person and worth making friends with. Also meant that there was much more cooperation with the accounts team.
Or when the “love from a distance” colleagues in IT found themselves sandwiched up close on the sweaty dance floor, finally snogged, and commenced in earnest a relationship we all knew should have been happening months ago.
I remember when sleazy Brian on the Exec Board pinched one bum too many, got a very public slapping, and the humiliation stopped him from any more groping for the next 12 months. Given that the CEO had been tolerating Brian's behaviour to that point, this turned out to be a way better result that the HR advisory cautions ever achieved.
When bitchy Suki responded to a dare, stuck her bare bum on the photocopier and proceeded to have 200 copies printed out, it showed us all that she had a/ a nice bum and b/ a human side with a sense of fun that meant we didn't take her sniping too seriously the following year and a huge improvement on team harmony resulted.
Certainly the party cannot get out of control. Like the Christmas event when Sam took full advantage of the free booze to the extent she was carted off in an ambulance after just 2 hours to get her stomach pumped. Or when police had to break up the fight that ensued between 20 colleagues – for a whole year their management teams had been vying them against each other in “healthy” competition and slanging matches (so it was just a matter of time till that much warring testosterone resulted in fisticuffs)
HR is always challenged by this types of company event. With the amount of legislation controlling what you can say and do at work, and with pretty stiff penalties for breaking the rules, there's no way any HR professional wants to encourage table dancing, kissing colleagues, or any other non-PC behaviour – the penalties are now too great. Invariably, HR becomes the custodian of risk, reputations, and company brand.
But instead of being the "fun police" and going through the motions of the Christmas issue policy memo, maybe HR could instead work with management on the type or timing of event that naturally encourages people to socialise without booze or at least any opportunity to get "hammered". (I worked for a company who sanctioned a free booze Christmas party for a couple of hundred graduates, and thought they would save money on the event by not feeding them. Given these grads struggled to pay their city rents, let alone eat decent meals, giving them an open bar was always going to be recipe for disaster)
And think about this dear HRD. If the only time we’ve heard from the HR Department is when your standard Christmas memo comes around, then you probably aren’t so connected to the people. And we probably won’t be taking your annual memo very seriously regardless of its tone and the multiple policies cited and threats implied.
Now, where is the nearest photocopier….