Work Christmas Parties ? Why?

One of the biggest questions I am seeing answered on other blogs this season is about what to wear or what to take or how to act at a work holiday party. While these are all good questions to get answers to (see end of post for some of my favorite links) here I will just touch on my history with work holiday parties. In an academia sense there are a few types of work holiday parties. First there is a research group party, a department party, a school wide party and then even some smaller groups with in the university also have parties (like our juniors bowling party last week: http://wp.me/p2QzcO-3c).

In undergrad I attended the department holiday party and the 2 years I was in a research group I went to the group holiday party, then some of the clubs I was part of had parties. All of these were pretty fun. The department party was sponsored by the department so the food was pretty good. The club parties tended to be pizza but sometimes had a fun activity. The research group I was in at the end of undergrad was really small the first year and it was just a potluck, hang out type party. The second year when we were larger we went to a fancy bowling place for food and bowling (which our boss completely paid for) but as I am not a huge fan of bowling and this happened right before I needed to take all my finals I didn’t stay long.

When I got to graduate school we were officially accepted into our research groups right around thanksgiving so the holiday party was the first big event to get to know your research group in a social setting. I of course attended both groups’ holiday events, the department holiday party, and the graduate school holiday party each year. Now the department party was food, alcohol, and some kind of drawing or raffle with some music and games some of the years. I always dreaded going but it was a good time to catch up with friends in other groups who I didn’t see often and I always ended up having a pretty good time. The graduate school party was often at a nice location (the alumni club right on the lake downtown for 2 of the years) and the food and drinks were good. Since it was free as long as you signed up on time I often combined this with a shopping trip at some downtown stores, plus good free dinner. Finally the two research groups I was in were large (>25 people at all times, up to about 45 in one of them). This makes planning holiday parties more difficult. One of the groups (the larger one) had the tradition of going to a fancy restaurant for dinner. The first few years we had a prefix menu where everyone paid ahead of time and you got 3 courses. This cost about $30-40 per person but I would just budget this into my holiday expenses. Then the group started picking other restaurants and the method for paying became more and more messy. I don’t mind splitting a bill with people but graduate students are cheap and no one would pay their share with out being forced to. Plus splitting a bill with 40 people is just a pain…even when we split between 6-8 at a table it was a pain depending on who you got sat by. The biggest problem I had with this type of party is that you actually didn’t get to meet anyone in your group. You sat by people you commuted to the restaurant with (i.e., the ones you knew) and then you couldn’t move around to talk to other people so you were stuck with the same people for hours. My other research group had a holiday celebration that I enjoyed much more. This event was a whole weekday in Jan or Feb at our boss’s house. We would show up around 9am, have some bagels and coffee and then have a day full of fun science talks. Sometimes they were project ideas that someone had just tried thinking they would never work, sometimes they were talks on how to use a useful tool (I did an in depth end note talk a few years in a row) and sometimes they were talks from group alumni about what they were up to now. Then after  lunch (Chicago pizza) we would go outside and have  snowball fight, build a snowman, or just fool around for a while. After the rest of the talks we returned to campus around 5pm. This structure was nice because it offered multiple hang out times to talk to people. Of course some people sat in one place or talked to only their friends but I was able to use the food and coffee breaks to talk to people about what they were working on and I started 2 different collaborations at these events. As an added bonus this event being in Jan removed it from the stress of the rest of the holiday season.

As I have explained before I have a go to the holiday party even if you don’t feel like it policy so when the sign up sheet for the holiday party went up in the coffee room, I signed up. Then when I learned from a discussion by others at lunch that we had to bring food…I said I would bring cookies. No one corrected me so when I saw the sign up sheet for the food and the only options were traditional food for the Julbord I was a little miffed. After deciding I could cook meat balls (I make Swedish meatballs often to eat myself) I realized the problem that the party was a Monday after work. How was I going to bring warm meatballs to the office then? Were they going to be able to heat them up? what was the plan? I kept asking these questions of the guys I eat lunch with and never really got any answers so I decided to cook my meat balls at my apartment on Monday afternoon and take them straight to the party. Of course they wouldn’t be hot but at least they should be warm. Turns out they had decided on a way to reheat the food onsite (sorta) and the schedule was much more complicated that I knew.

First there was a talk which I had never seen on the schedule, then everyone went upstairs for dinner. Dinner was a Julbord buffet that was a mix of all the food people had brought. There was a lot of food but also a lot of people so the organization of where the food was, what was hot and when people should get in line wasn’t great. After the dinner started there were signing groups, drinking songs, and a trivia game during and after eating. After all of this they announced a treasure hunt. Since the party had already lasted for 3 hrs and I had planned to do some work before I went to bed, I snuck out to head home.

What I learned is that scheduling a holiday party is always difficult and there is probably no good way but just like with any social event making it cheaper for the planning group just puts the costs off onto the guests, either in actually money, time, or inconvenience. A good party balances these costs and work parties are always a mess.

2012-12-12 23.56.54-2

Holiday Party Attire Links

Festive Attire (That Won’t Make You Cringe) – Sociology of Style

Things That Make You Sparkle – Sociology of Style

5 Outfits of Christmas – Sociology of Style

Casual Party Attire – Capital Hill Style

Two Ways: Holiday Party Looks – Capital Hill Style

Two Ways: Holiday Red Pants – Capital Hill Style

Some Good Coworker or Friend Gift Links

Holiday Hot Coco – Capital Hill Style

Gifts for Co-Workers – Capital Hill Style

May your work holiday parties be classy and at least not boring 🙂

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