The Office Party: Informal Fun or Politics as Usual?

Last Updated Dec 22, 2009 7:59 PM EST

Dear Stanley,
Why do so many bosses seem to live for holiday parties, barbecues and picnics while the average worker would rather get shot in the ass with a .22 than endure one of those hellish bouts of "informal fun"? Is it all just about ego gratification for the poster boy in charge? Or are there other more sinister forces at work here?
Signed,
Party Pooper

Dear Poop,

You sound like you have a bad attitude. Gatherings like the ones you describe are conducted by management to allow people to drink together, lose some of their inhibitions, and hopefully "bond" a little bit. No, nobody is going to collapse into a warm pile of goo about them, but they can be fun if you get drunk enough -- and even if you don't, the sight of people who usually have a size 0 sphincter getting loose and happy can be quite entertaining.

No matter how mean or inept they might be on a human level, bosses love to feel that there is good morale in their shop. Many of them do little to promote it, but still, they want it. A good party now and then is living proof that the troops are hanging together and kind of like each other. This warms whatever cockles the boss's heart has left. So go to your party, have a moderate amount of fun for an appropriate amount of time, thank the boss for the excellent idea of having the bash in the first place, and then get out of there without hurting yourself.

That bears repeating. Don't hurt yourself -- physically, emotionally, or professionally. It's pretty amazing how stupid people can be on this issue. The first big mistake is to assume that because it looks informal, the company event is really informal. It's not. It's a professional function. Only the very senior people are allowed to truly let their hair down, and that's ironic, because so few of them have any to speak of. Everybody else has to enjoy themselves within career-appropriate limits.

This guy I know, for instance, call him Bill. He's very junior. He went to his first company party the other day. "I didn't have a drinking strategy," he reported to me not long after. "I started out with this very good scotch and drank a lot of that. Then I moved over to red wine with dinner. My big mistake was the Sambuca after. That's when I hurled. Don't worry," he assured me, "I made it to the bathroom." So this time he dodged a bullet. Not everybody is always so lucky. A long time ago, I did the same thing Bill did at my first company party. I ended up putting my arm around the chairman and telling him I loved working for him. He thanked me politely but I could see in his eyes that he was making some secret assessment about me that was not altogether positive. Later that night, I was required to call Ralph on the Big White Phone. Drink is not the only thing that can get you in trouble, of course. Do the words Sexual Harassment mean anything to you?

So be careful! You're at school! Watch out for teachers!