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Appropriate Activities

The holidays are approaching thus, company holiday parties. That makes this a good time to ask this question here, even though it was raised by something that happened at a recent industry conference and not a private, company party. I just saw a picture today from a recent national trade event of one of our board members dancing closely with one of our management employees. They didn't know each other before the conference. They are both married. Family members do not generally attend these week long conferences. The female colleague showing me the dancing board member on her cell phone told me that this same board member had asked her to dance but he "creeped her out" too much so she turned him down. And then she told me that one of our board members had danced with her in the past and "touched her in ways he should not have been". I have attended the national conference in the past and vendors were hosting hospitality suites stocked with booze and inviting key clients to off site, lavish parties at expensive restaurants. The off site gatherings frequently included a live band and dancing. As most of us were married and unaccompanied, it was awkward for those who like to maintain a professional demeanor and an arms length relationship with vendors. And truthfully, in my own early experience at these conferences, there was some amount of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll that went on. It felt like our CEO was pushing me subtly to join in. Basically to get bombed and chase women. She seems to take perverse pleasure in getting employees to cheat on their spouses. Enough so that I chose not to attend again. Now, I realize that dancing is not necessarily sexual or even romantic. But, there can be an element of both in western culture and that is how it is generally perceived. In my younger, single and more naive days I went to a few after season parties, drank a fair amount............and danced with female coworkers. A few of them hit on me and I passed it off without any detrimental affect most of the time. There was a lot of complications that arose for many of my colleagues because of those events. I could tell a few tales. But, that was then. Employment law was less rigid. The employees were more homogenous in any demographic measurement. Today, with much stricter laws and, a very diverse workforce, I see plenty of potential employment related issues arising when employees are thrown together with food, booze and dancing like some college frat party. I don't care what people do on their personal time, but work is work. And, dancing isn't a great idea at a work related event. I'm not even that fond of it at the company holiday party where spouses and significant others are often in attendance. (The holiday party is something I think should go the way of the Betamax with the extreme diversity of religion, race and culture we have today.) Do the participants here find me being overly harsh about this? Is having dancing at non-social events appropriate? Are there risks?

Answers

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

I wouldn't get rid of holiday parties, however I would structure them in a way that is family friendly. The company I work for has a Christmas bowling party where everyone in the company and their family can attend. Children receive gifts from an employee that is dressed as Santa. The gifts are age and gender appropriate.

A company I used to work for would have holiday parties akin to what you mentioned above. However their parties were reserved for senior members of the company not rank and file employees.

The world is becoming too politically correct. My opinion is that getting rid of holiday parties, regardless of what you refer to them as, might harm the morale and culture. I believe this is especially true if the company has had parties in the past. Remember the Jelly of the Month Club from Christmas Vacation? Clark was expecting his annual bonus for Christmas, only to receive the gift that keeps on giving year round. Try to restructure the events details, not get rid of the event.

You have excellent points regarding the need for restructuring. Also, in regards to alcohol at company parties, you may want to consider liability issues if someone drinks too much and drives home. The whole issue of personal responsibility will not get you too far if someone's family sue the company because an employee left your party drunk and killed their loved one.

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

I think the judgement on the activities themselves should be separated from the behavior of the attendees (presence of booze notwithstanding) It is more a reflection on the attendees than the activity.

Topic Expert
Malak Kazan
Title: VP, Special Projects
Company: ERI Economic Research Institute
(VP, Special Projects, ERI Economic Research Institute) |

It depends on the organization culture and properly setting expectations for the events (starts with the leadership setting the example). More recently I am seeing companies take employees on a holiday lunch to nice restaurant (without alcohol;) and also sponsor a company charity event for employees to attend/volunteer. Hope this helps.

Michael Davis
Title: CFO
Company: Private
(CFO, Private) |

If you have casual Friday and someone wears something too casual, do you get rid of casual Friday? If you have bonus's and two people compare their bonus, thus causing one to feel shortchanged, do you get rid of bonus's? If you have a company lunch and someone says the wrong thing, do you.... and on and on.

This impulse to ruin a generally nice thing for everyone because someone acts badly is delusional - the delusion being that it is possible to regulate 100% perfect behavior 100% of the time by narrowing activities to an environment better suited for robots than people.

If you allow people to talk in the office, people will sometimes say something unfortunate. What's next, no talking?

Well short of that extreme example, this impulse to confine and regulate will harm the business as fewer good people want to work there, taking their talent and contributions elsewhere and/or requiring more pay to stay in such an environment.

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

I side with Michael. It's about setting proper expectations and holding people accountable. We rely on our leaders to control their people. If someone is out of control it makes the leader look bad for allowing it. In your case it sounds like the party is planned by someone other than you and that those people don't see anything wrong with the current atmosphere of the party. You could make a recommendation to change this venue to a family oriented event. They may not take you up on your recommendation but at least you can say you tried. If the event will continue on as it has always been then it is out of your control and you can choose not to attend as you did in the past.

Anonymous
(Co-CEO) |

First, an anecdote about casual Fridays.

I worked for a K Street federal agency. On Casual Fridays, we were allowed to wear jeans and tshirts.

I used to visit soldiers recovering at the Army hospital in DC. Out of appreciation, they gave me things to remember them by. One happened to give me this tshirt and I happened to wear it on the Friday before President Obama's first inauguration, and the walking path was right by our building.

So anyway, there was a lot of caution that day, with FBI walking down the halls in preparation. There was a rumor that there was a bomb in the office.

The reason for the bomb rumor was my tshirt. I happened to realize I chose it that morning by accident(it was next on the clean stack). It read on from, "COMBAT ENGINEER" and had a cartoon bomb on it. On the back it read, "If you see me running, try to keep up."

They changed casual Fridays to prohibit tshirts.

--

Now, about the holiday party. Watch the movie "Scrooged". That is how wild parties got back in the day. I doubt yours is anything near that.

I am going against the advice here, about making parties family friendly. Parties are for having fun. Nobody has fun when half the group is chasing after their kids to keep them from getting into trouble, and the other half of the group is being annoyed by kids running around.

Again, for all you "If my kids can't come, I won't come to the party people", WE DO NOT WANT YOUR KIDS AT OUR PARTY! If you have to choose your kids over the company, we're going to be sad for the fact you are not here, but not sad enough to shed a tear. Just sad enough to go, "It's too bad so-and-so can't make it." Find a babysitter, or be more family building.

Now, off that soap box, onto the other aspect. Fidelity is important to many of us. If you are married, and it is important to you, if someone is trying to force you into infidelity, tell them to get lost. In this day of nonjudgmentalism, you cannot judge the sexual choice of others. All you can do is be responsible for your own actions.

I have more to say, but better stop now before this soapbox breaks.

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

I understand and appreciate where you're coming from about the family friendly aspect of company parties.

What I think you fail to see is that company cultures are not all the same.

Where I work, children are encouraged to come. Employees with grandchildren are encouraged to bring their grandchildren. It's our company culture.

Our Christmas party wouldn't be as fun without children attending.

Once again, I understand where you're coming from, however defining fun is too subjective.

Topic Expert
Scott MacDonald
Title: President/Owner
Company: AlphaMac Resources, Inc.
(President/Owner, AlphaMac Resources, Inc.) |

What you witnessed was sexual harassment. It should not be tolerated. PERIOD. If your CEO was involved in the behavior, RUN away from that company. Her behavior shows a distinct lack of common sense and one wonders what other lapses of judgement she has had. The "tone at the top" is one of the most important things that defines a company. Your CEO is a poor example of ethical behavior and should be receiving a letter from an attorney representing all of the women in the organization that have been sexually harassed.

PS - I think all company sponsored parties should be alcohol free. Too much liability if someone gets drunk and kills someone driving home. It also cuts down on the people who can't handle their alcohol.

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