Tis the Season of Angst

Express YourselfI have been employed in some manner off and on since 1974 and I can count on one hand the number of decent holiday work gatherings. People want to have a party. People want to share. All of these are good things. Managers, I can hear you now saying you want to promote some goodwill and team spirit. I get it. I really do. I also know that many people love celebrating the holidays with co-workers.  So as your resident party pooper in charge, let me lay it out there for you.

I call this the season of “forced fun.” Usually there is one crazy Christmas person in every office that wants everyone to “get into the spirit” of the holidays. (Coincidentally, these are usually the same people that are hell bent on cheerfulness before 9 am.)  These party people insist on activities, parties, decorations and gift exchanges. In my working life, I have seen and/or participated in crazy activities ranging from booze filled, career-ending cocktail parties to insane Secret Santa games that extend over weeks and involve a lot of money and effort.

Before everyone accuses me of having a less than generous spirit, let me explain. First, holidays aren’t always good times for people.  For me personally, December has been a nightmare for at least a couple of decades with some kind of disaster ranging from a family member’s death to a hospitalization of a child. I was having trouble just getting to work and staying upright. I did not want to do a stupid Secret Santa exchange or someone to tell me that all I need to do is smile and wear a Santa hat.

I can already hear those people saying: “but our office/library is different.” No, it isn’t. Even if you are extremely close to your co-workers, you cannot possibly know all the things that they are coping with at the time. Tight budgets, time constraints and general family pressures can make participating in such an office party more than difficult. Don’t add to the stress by insisting on full participation in holiday parties and activities, especially if some kind of contribution on the part of the employee is required. I know I am not made of money for endless food and gifts.

If a boss asks me to attend a function, even if it is a party, there is no way I will consider this purely social. It now becomes a work obligation. No matter how nice the invitation, how casual the gathering or how fabulous the relationship is with your employees, there will always be the hint of a boss asking an underling to do something. That means it now becomes work. (My husband is fond of saying that he usually needs to be paid in order to hang out with his office, so a holiday party is not a treat unless there is cash involved.) One passive-aggressive boss I had a long time ago wanted everyone to “want” to come celebrate on a weekend night. It was like pieces of flair only in party form.

As we crawl into the season of holiday angst, I urge bosses and managers to tread carefully. Review policies and make sure no one feels pressured to participate or purposely excluded from any office-wide activity. As I am a long standing victim of holiday forced fun, I urge you to read and then re-read, the Ask a Manager blog. (This link takes you right to a holiday discussion.) There is a host of good advice for everyone to use on holiday gifts and parties. Sharing and celebrating can be done, just do it right.

Mary (designated party pooper)


  1. I managed to avoid my husband’s work holiday party last year and was so happy to miss it. This year I have no excuse.

  2. We raid the fine drawer and go out to lunch. In 15 years, I have yet to hear a complaint. We also do it after the holidays.

    1. This is a fine idea! However, we always needed the fine money for other things. And there’s less and less fine money.

  3. God Bless you,, Mary! I have felt the same way on many a Christmas! I’m retired now, and I’m graciously invited to the public library from which I retired. All I have to do is bring some food item, and even that is not mandatory. I (ll go happily, because it is a calm affair.There were many years when I frantically planned, designed and printed invitations, decorated, bought party favors, and felt pressed to spread cheer. I was frequently told that this was the only party some staffers would attend. I decided that, if that was true, I’d rather take that person out to a restaurant myself. I never wanted a gift exchange, but some insisted on it. And I caved.

    And, this year is so depressing, I’m having a hard time celebrating anything but my small family. I just want to hug my kids and avoid the news.

    I once heard yhat Librarians do at least 2 things really well: plan parties/receptions and conduct surveys. Too true.

  4. I feel the same way!! It’s so good to hear someone else actually say it!!
    I have always tried to “decline” in some way, particularly in my days working in law offices. My dad was a blue collar guy and he never socialized in this way.
    The school I work in now “gets” this and I don’t participate in their festivities and no one gives me a hard time. It took me years to find a workplace where I don’t feel the “holiday” pressure to celebrate with my co-workers.

  5. i avoid the City employees Christmas party every year and have for my entire career. I think I went once. I usually have a good excuse (my church does it’s pageant thing that weekend), this year I have chosen a Clint Black concert as my excuse.

  6. i live in Social Housing, there are people in here who insist on holding birthday parties for other tenants, and every year there is a summer bbq and a xmas party. i do not attend any of them, i am not antisocial, i enjoy family get togethers but do not enjoy these ‘socialable’ get togethers and people have learned that i probably won’t attend. Christmas time is especially difficult as some people have more funds than others and cannot seem to understand that some of us do not have the means to provide snacks, small gifts etc. this year there is supposedly no money in the Society’s (who maintain this building) budget for an annual Christmas dinner so the church that shares our property is hosting one. i have decided that i will probably go to this one as it will mean a good meal and since money is nonexistent right now it will be nice to eat something other than canned soup

  7. I worked for a director that was into forcible partying. Then I went to a library where one person forced a no party rule. Both situations were bad. At my current institution there is a social committee with bylaws. I giggled because it is so librarianesque. It does work for the most part. As director, I am out of the job of forcing parties or not. It’s all optional and participation varies. I won’t say there is no angst, but there is usually a minimum of drama. I can live with that. Party on, or not.

  8. As someone who doesn’t belong to a religion with a December holiday and is thoroughly sick of ‘holidays’-related work activities, it was really, really nice to read this.

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