Don’t get kissed under the mistletoe at the office party this year

Company expenses in the form of end of the year functions

IT’S THAT time of the year again. No, not Christmas, it’s even worse; office Christmas parties. In this case, also seen as company expenses. It’s time to decompress, destress and just breathe. We haven’t been able too for a while now. COVID stopped the in-person get togethers. And since the pandemic passed, it is all systems go to start producing the results that the shareholders had to forego when we were in lockdown.

So, this year, don’t be surprised if the pressure is on to go big. But what is big? What are seen as big company expenses? For many companies, it’s an expensive outlay for a lavish end of the year function that can end in tears and ruin careers. That’s right, even if it’s out of the office, it’s still an office function. We often forget that; as alcohol levels go up and our inhibitions (along with other things) come down.

We always end up seeing sides of people we never knew existed – and it’s not always a great side either. There are horror stories aplenty and we need to remember them before we go off and make our own. Alcohol makes people behave in a way they wouldn’t normally. Secret crushes get uttered out loud after the third or fourth shooter – and then acted on after the seventh or eighth. The result is always the same – acute embarrassment the next day.

company expenses

Office parties

It’s one thing if the people involved in a little instant office romance are on the same paygrade, but it’s invariably catastrophic if they aren’t. I heard of one office party where the female director got into a steamy moment with a junior. The next day the junior didn’t know where to put his eyes, while the director pretended it had never happened. Only to proceed to find fault with every piece of work the junior produced for the next couple of months. It made things exceptionally awkward for everyone in the office.

It’s no guarantee either that you will avoid any of this if you hold the function at the office. It makes sense from a cost-efficiency perspective, but you’ll never see your boardroom in the same light if you walk in on two of your staff in full flight with not a stitch of clothing between them. For that matter, if you do decide to have the bash at your offices this year, lock your own office. At least you can have peace of mind when you go to work, that it wasn’t the scene for a stolen assignation. While you are at it, make sure everyone smokes outside. Not just because of the laws that ban smoking inside offices but because of the real danger of someone under the influence setting a wastepaper basket, and possibly the entire office, alight when they try to stub out their illicit stompie.

company expenses

Saying things that could have been avoided

Protestations of unrequited love and lust aren’t the only things executives have to worry about at company functions. Lowered inhibitions can also mean that any slight that one person might have suffered, real or imagined, can get aired once the booze starts flowing. The result is the same. If someone says something they shouldn’t; tells their subordinate what they really think of them or decides to take a swing at their boss, the power dynamic is altered. Often permanently.

There is no going back from an assault; physical or sexual. It’s a summary dismissal or a suspension while the allegations are investigated. Another thing to remember; this is the era of the Millennial and the Smartphone. It’s like Schrodinger’s Cat; did the party even happen if someone didn’t post it on Insta or Facebook? What happens at the office party should stay at the office party. Instead these days, thanks to social media; it’s the root of all evil, especially on Monday morning.

Do something different this year

So, perhaps the answer this year is to actually do something different. Maybe make it transformative for your own staff as well as other people’s lives. Set aside a day to volunteer somewhere in the morning and then end with a lunch together. Or get them to learn something and then have lunch. One year I took my team to the Apartheid Museum. I know other C-suite executives who have taken their staff to help out at soup kitchens or pack food parcels for the less fortunate.

When you do get to the lunch, arrange the sitting specifically. My friend and co-director Clive does that on purpose every year to ensure that we do build a team by deliberately disrupting any cliques that might have formed. The key outcome for the end of the year function is to enhance teamwork so that you can have an even better year the following year. Doing this you reward and recognise the effort of your team each year. Far too often though, it becomes the exact opposite. Rather invest your HR company expenses this way seeing a more favourable outcome.

Make this year different. It is possible to relax without having sex on the MD’s desk. It’s possible to exhale without throwing up all over the clerk from receiving. There’s no doubt, it’s been a helluva year, so make it better not worse by getting the office party right. Organise Ubers or designated drivers beforehand so everyone can get home safely. And if someone organises an after party, there’s always that person – fight the urge, don’t go.

You’ll thank me in the morning.


Lucia Mabasa expresses an expert opinion in this article

  • Lucia Mabasa is managing director of pinpoint one human resources. A proudly South African black women owned executive search firm providing critical c-suite, specialist and critical skills solutions across industries and professional disciplines, in South Africa and across Africa. This article was also posted on Bizcommunity.

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lucia mabasa
lucia mabasa - managing director of pinpoint one human resources