Case Study: The Most Depressing, Demotivating Office Holiday Party Ever holiday party ever

Holiday season is in full swing, and so are office holiday parties in NYC and everywhere else. In my line of work, I am fortunate to help groups of all types and sizes celebrate the season with customized trivia parties, designed to reward staff for a job well done and help boost their spirits for the year ahead.

But there was one party in particular which is seared into my memory – an office holiday party so horrible, that I feel compelled to write about it today.

My own office’s holiday party.

Before taking TrivWorks full-time two years ago, I had spent my years in the workforce at numerous commercial and non-for-profit organizations. It was during my employ at one of these establishments that I learned how truly wrong the office holiday party could go – which helped me devote my future career to employee entertainment and team building in New York City and beyond.

Nonprofits aren’t known for paying their staffs well, which is why a rollicking holiday party is so important for keeping hard-working employees happy and motivated. At this particular organization, however, it seems that they viewed the annual rite as something else entirely. We staff members waited anxiously until early December before the “party” was even announced – lo and behold, it was being held onsite! At 2pm in the afternoon! No real food, just desert! And no booze, either, because they were afraid of getting sued!

Those are the best parts about this party. It only gets worse.

Obviously trying to spend as little money as possible, the “decorations” had been made by hand by the holiday party committee; the “entertainment” was a cheap rented karaoke machine, with the words appearing on a screen on the machine itself, rather than projected for the entire room to see (ie: people were singing to themselves in the corner).

Suffering through several platitude-rich speeches from senior staff, my colleagues and I shuffled irritably while waiting to see what our annual “bonus” would be – in the past this had included such lavish spoils as movie tickets, as well as hats emblazoned with the organization’s logo. But what came next completely blew my mind.

The head of the organization took the microphone: “It’s the season of giving,” it began, “and as a nonprofit, we rely on the generosity of others to fulfill our mission…”

Oh no.

“As vital stakeholders of this organization, nobody takes that mission more seriously than the people here in this room…”

Please, God no…

“And so, today we are thrilled to announce a staff fundraising campaign, where you will be given the privilege of giving back to this organization you care about so much!”

Kill me now.

“…And to kick off this exciting campaign, we’re going to pass around this bowl, and ask each of you to sign a dollar bill from your wallet and put it in – we’ll hold a 50/50 raffle in a few minutes, and the winner will take home half! Unless, of course, he or she chooses to donate their half back…!”

To recap: after arranging the lamest, cheapest party possible, instead of giving us a bonus, the well-heeled senior staff asked us poorly-paid worker bees to donate a portion of our salaries back to the organization. You might imagine how my colleagues and I felt at that very moment. I can tell you, however, that in actuality, it felt far worse than these written words could ever do justice to.

This experience happened a long time ago, but the sting I felt at that instant has stuck with me all these years. Never have I felt more demotivated, more dispirited, more frustrated and more alienated from a job than at that moment – ironically, the moment being the holiday party, where employees typically feel the highest degree of sentiment towards their employer. It helped me choose my current career path, one where I work every day to help make hard-working employees feel valued, recognized and rewarded.

I sincerely hope that there is a lesson to be learned here – a case study of how NOT to run an office holiday party.


  1. Scott on November 19, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    I’m a public school teacher. We are asked to PAY $40 to attend our holiday party. No joke.

    • david on November 20, 2014 at 10:07 am

      My wife is a public school teacher as well, and in order to make her party feasible she & other teachers have to contribute money. Obviously not ideal, but still – better than no party!

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