Have you heard the one about the fun-loving employee who rode naked on a Ferris wheel at the annual holiday party?
Or the would-be stuntman who drove a golf cart into a river, jumping out at the last moment?
Office party season is upon us once again, and along with the grog and merriment come the annual lessons in career suicide, crisis communications and sexual harassment law.
Lest you think your workforce is above such tomfoolery, a new survey from The Creative Group offers a startling conclusion: People can be stupid—especially when spiked eggnog is involved.
The survey asked 750 marketing and advertising executives about outrageous behavior at office parties. Its findings suggest that if you haven’t had an employee bring a pet python to your soiree or a team of bosses show up in their boxer shorts, it’s only a matter of time.
In a phone interview, Greg Detter, vice president of The Creative Group, a professional placement service, sounded awed by his survey’s results.
“I’ve seen and heard stories, but it’s tough to beat the one about the co-worker who shows up at an event with a bag of Tupperware so she can pack up all the leftovers,” he says.
We at Ragan Communications like to present annual stories offering sensible holiday party advice. (Don’t get drunk! Don’t get your employees drunk!) But this year we’re thinking some more specific tips might be in order.
Feel free to spread the word among the more clueless members of your staff.
1. Don’t ram the CEO’s Lexus.
David Handmaker, CEO of Next Day Flyers, fondly recalls the party where an employee did his impression of an Olympic speed skater on the bowling lanes and ended up sprawling on the floor. But one of his most abiding office party memories is of the team member who rammed his new Lexus while she was parking.
Luckily, she was sober, and Handmaker’s a forgiving guy. “In case you were wondering, she’s still on board,” he says.
2. Don’t throw up on the chief marketing officer.
Brad Karsh, president of JB Training Solutions, warns against overconsumption of food and beverage. Why?
“I’ve seen co-workers who have had to be carried out of the holiday party venue, senior leaders who have called in sick the day after a holiday party after a result of being hungover, and a co-worker wipe another co-worker’s vomit off the CMO’s new sport coat,” Karsh says.
3. Avoid displays of shirtless manliness.
At one party, a co-worker swung from the rafters, and another burly lad defeated the entire mailroom staff in shirtless arm wrestling, Karsh says.
Shockingly, at the next HR meeting, no one said, “Hey, let’s promote chandelier boy or the arm wrestler! They definitely have the maturity and judgment to take us to the next level,” he reports.
4. Don’t assault your date.
Some party misbehavior isn’t just naughty, but scary and outright criminal. And we’re not just talking about drunken driving.
Several years ago, a company was hosting an alcohol-fueled party, says David Jacobson, founder of TrivWorks, a corporate entertainment company specializing in trivia events. An argument broke out between a couple, and the man allegedly assaulted the woman. He was fired, of course.
“That one incident rattled the management of the organization enough to where they said, ‘We’re not going to be offering alcohol to employees at a staff party anymore,” Jacobson says.
5. Don’t wear that Hollywood-style sexy dress.
One attractive Wall Street executive in a male-dominated industry thought it would liven up the party if she dressed as a sexy Ms. Santa. She “showed excessive cleavage and more leg than Angelina Jolie at an awards ceremony,” says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.”
“She fueled a work rumor that she rose through the ranks by flirting with clients and by taking that behavior even further,” Cohen says. “It was not at all true, but it was her colleagues’ impression and was now reinforced by her outlandish and inappropriate outfit.”
Vicious and unfair? Sure. But dress professionally.
Which brings us to:
6. Don’t bear false witness.
Sober, you know that gossip is nasty. But get a few drinks into some folks, and the worst comes out, like half-digested hors d’oeuvres on the CMO’s coat.
Be nice, says Greg Jenkins, partner in Bravo Productions, an event planning and production company.
At one holiday party, rumors spread that a worker was having marital problems, he says. “By the time it ended, it became that they were having an affair with their boss … which dragged the boss into a situation,” Jenkins says.
Trust us: Your snark will be reported back to the person you’re slandering. HR could be called in. Don’t go there.
7. Don’t steal the centerpieces.
At another event, a guest started swiping the decorative neon centerpieces, Jenkins says. Bravo had rented these, and they clearly weren’t intended to be smuggled home under overcoats and pawned.
Bravo’s staff stopped the would-be thief, but a few minutes later he tried again. Jenkins reported him to the client.
“It turned out his date, who worked for the company, had just been honored as the employee of the year,” Jenkins says.
8. Don’t destroy your career—or your marriage—over a drunken slow dance with the intern.
Karsh recalls the image of married, middle-aged male executives draped over 23-year-old female employees in a slow dance. These satyrs weren’t with the company—or married—much longer.
“Don’t forget how precious your reputation is to your career,” Karsh says.
9. Don’t get tipsy, call the CEO an ‘old fart’ and mock his attire.
Quentin Boyer of DMCA Force recalls an entry-level job where he got tipsy at the Christmas party.
Some of the guys were engaging in some “good natured trash-talking” when an older gent wandered up, sporting a plaid pink shirt, a pink vest, orange pants, and black-and-white wingtips. He joined in the joking.
So Boyer replied, “This old fart is one to talk. Did you just wander over here from the 18th hole looking for some free grub, or what?”
Unbeknownst to Boyer, this oddly dressed partier was the CEO.
Note to millennials: AARP-eligible Americans seldom enjoy being called “old fart.” Luckily, though, this bigwig was amused.
Thereafter, whenever Boyer met the CEO, he would say, “Q! We haven’t fired your useless ass yet? I love this guy! Do you know what he said to me the first time we met?”
At least they didn’t take off their shirts and arm-wrestle.