When Should an Office Holiday Party Not be Fun?

Every time I sit down with a company owner, office manager or HR director to iron out the details of a customized trivia party, I always ask a series of questions designed to gather as much information about the staff as possible.

By far the most revealing question (as well as my favorite) is this:

“After the event is over, and everyone has returned to the office, what do you want your group to say about this event?”

Invariably, the first response is always the same: “That it was fun!”

This holds true for our corporate team building activities, employee entertainment events or company holiday parties in New York City. “Fun” is the first thing groups want, regardless of the reason for the event. And why not? Work is hard, stressful and increasingly unpredictable in today’s economic environment. If you’re going to take people out of the office for an event, if nothing else, shouldn’t it be enjoyable?

For office holiday parties in particular, this should be especially so. I’ve racked my brains trying, perhaps you can offer a solution- however, I simply can’t for the life of me come up with a single instance when a company holiday party should not be fun.

Yes, of course who doesn’t remember the economic bombshell which hit NYC and the rest of the country in October 2008; for companies suddenly facing layoffs, furloughs and other nasty things, throwing a festive holiday party was probably the last thing on management’s mind. But many companies still had parties, designed to boost morale among remaining staff – and, in a word, they were fun.

How about a holiday party which coincides with a recent tragedy or other terrible event, either inside or outside the company? There is typically an appropriate recognition of such, either trough a senior manager’s speech, company-wide email or other messaging. The party does still go on, however, and it’s still fun.

In fact, the only time it makes sense that a holiday party shouldn’t be fun is when the company has failed, and a party is given as a “last hurrah.” This defies logic, however – only in Brewster’s Millions do people throw lavish parties to celebrate their demise. For the rest of the world, when the company is kaput there’s no holiday party at all – which is way worse than it simply not being fun.

Can you think of any instances when a company holiday party shouldn’t be fun? If so, I welcome you to set me straight by using the “Leave a Reply” box below!

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