The heart of the office holiday party season is upon us. The event is a staple in today’s work environment—which isn’t necessarily a good thing. In the Harvard Business Review, Julia Kirby looks at the inherent flaws of the office party and questions why this tradition exists at all. “Perhaps it’s time to rethink the point of the holiday party, and whether it’s still having anything like its desired effect,” she writes.
Company managers and executives often think of the office party as being a good outlet for employees to bond and celebrate their hard work over the past year. But Kirby isn’t so sure that that goal actually gets accomplished. First of all, people don’t actually mingle at office parties. According to Paul Ingram and Michael Morris of Columbia University, we tend to stick with people we already know as opposed to branching out and meeting new co-workers. Researcher Tracy Dumas took that idea even further, Kirby writes, showing that not only do we not mingle, but we also tend to stick near to people of our own race. In her studies she found that company parties helped employees of the same race bond but failed to mix employees of diverse backgrounds.
Some companies may believe that office parties can help break down hierarchies and create a more open work environment. But again, these goals are rarely met. According to Michael Rosen of NYU, the events end up just reinforcing the organization’s power dynamics.
Kirby also brings up some concerning risks from the Society for Human Resources. The group found that 6 percent of HR executives were aware of unwanted sexual advances taking place at office parties, probably in part a result of alcohol consumption.
Another issue is that most people would rather have a choice of how and with whom they celebrate the holidays. They would prefer extra vacation as opposed to being forced to attend an office event. So after all of these arguments against the office party, why does it still persist?
Maybe it’s simply because it’s what’s always been done, and at the end of the day it’s a chance for a business to give back to its employees. According to Kirby, parties also serve as a sign of the state of the business.
“The announcement that the annual party will take place, and will even be better catered than last year’s, is a reassurance to the workforce, and all the company’s stakeholders, that things are on the right track,” she writes.