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Is the Christmas party just a break from culture?

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Whether you cringe into a pile on the floor or embrace it with full fancy dress and too much mulled wine, the work Christmas do is the highlight or the lowlight of the work social calendar by tradition.

From turning the office into a festive fun zone to diverting some of that hard-earned corporation tax away from the government’s coffers at a swanky hotel or venue, the Christmas party, in the UK anyway, is something of a green light for indulgence.

Free drinks, endless buffets and dancing and entertainment may have been off the menu for a while now, but it’s still in our psyche to get together and celebrate year end.

But we want to ask if the ‘good old-fashioned’ Christmas party does more damage to your culture than it’s worth.

The positives

Christmas parties are a good thing, right? It’s a way of gathering everyone together and putting away the BAU for an evening, celebrating successes or revealing what the Christmas bonus looks like (probably a mixed bag this year, let’s be honest).

As well as an opportunity to reflect, it’s also a great way to revisit what good looks like and inspire for the year ahead.

Oh, and don’t forget the fact that it promotes team interaction and maybe helps those who are less talkative at other times to sneak out of their shells for a while.

These are all very big advantages from a culture perspective. If you want to promote openness and honesty, for example, then allowing people to share their vulnerabilities and break the ice at a social event makes both of those aspirations a lot easier.

There’s also the fact that you’re investing money into downtime, often in work hours, that your employees don’t have to take holiday for, or contribute to (unless you’re really tight). That’s a powerful statement that contributes to feeling valued

The negatives

Where do we start. Drunkenness is a good opener.

There’s an unwritten rule somewhere that somebody has to drink too much alcohol at the Christmas party and end up doing something they regret with a coworker, tell their boss an embarrassing harsh truth, or have a bust-up with someone they don’t get along with at least once in their lives.

Sounds awful when you think about it, doesn’t it? If your culture is to treat others with respect and act appropriately during work hours, why does some tinsel and a few free Proseccos make it open season for bad behaviour?

Then there are those folks who would rather spend the festive season with their family and loved ones, rather than listen to the drunken ramblings of Ed in Accounts. The ‘mandatory’ Christmas do may send them straight to a job board over the Christmas break as they look for a place where they aren’t dragged along to forced fun once a year.

The final point covers representation and inclusivity. We definitely aren’t saying Christmas needs to be cancelled here, but we are suggesting that you think about what other events are celebrated in the calendar. If the entire entertainment budget is going on Christmas champagne, maybe it’s time to start thinking about diverting that spend to celebrating other religious holidays, or events like pride.

So what’s the best approach?

Thanks to the new Covid variant, further uncertainty going into 2022 and the Ghost of Christmas Future, Plan B, looming over us, our Christmas parties are being cancelled and postponed.

According to a survey of 2,000 office workers commissioned by Covid testing company Prenetics, about 52% of UK workplaces have decided not to hold a Christmas office party this year.

So maybe this year, the Christmas party could be about reconnecting and enjoying socialising that includes everyone, rather than going for the all-singing, all-dancing mega event.

If people want to bunk down at home with the family and log onto a Zoom quiz, great. If some teams want to follow the guidelines and continue to head to a restaurant or bar, also great. Put the focus on recreating those natural moments where colleagues can put work away for a few hours and talk about anything they like and you may find this works a lot better than herding hundreds of people into a big dark event space with loud music.

You could even take the opportunity to live one of Patrick Lencioni’s 5 team behaviours. Use the time that may have been spent drunkenly shouting along to Christmas songs to get to know and understand more about each other. Christmas is a great time to come out of the office atmosphere, share life stories and understand what makes us tick.

The five behaviours are designed to create greater trust and cohesion within the team when you do get back to the office. Seeing team members in a social and relaxed environment can show a side that may not be as prominent at work.

So instead of that big, impersonal party, take the time out to make it more about smaller groups. Carry on with some of your culture values in a social and relaxed environment – and perhaps most importantly, listen to your team.

Do you think your Christmas party could do with a change? Or are you desperate for the cheesy music and bad behaviour to make a return? Let us know in the comments!

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