/ 27 November 2009

Making merry without the office party

The recession has bitten deep into the season of goodwill. Many South African companies have even dropped the traditional office party, opting instead for sensible cost-cutting measures such as how to fire people without being taken to the CCMA.

But office workers in such a situation should look on the bright side: in a year that saw employees wailing round the water cooler while digesting the news that bonuses are out, retrenchments are in and everybody has to use both sides of a Post-it, the office party could present a burning bridge too far.

At the booming best of times the annual staff party can be a vehicle for an array of embarrassing disasters that, in the worst cases, end up in casualty, court or compulsory counselling. The annual staff party is, in other words, the occasion most likely to cause the wheels to come off workplace civilisation in the shortest possible time.

The trouble usually starts somewhere between Alcoholic Beverage No 3 and Alcoholic Beverage No 17. It does not have to be your drink that makes trouble. Sipping a Sprite Zero and smiling at the guy whose name you never quite caught from accounts is no guarantee that he won’t be on Alcoholic Beverage No 12 and inclined to misread your polite overture.

Office parties are also the worst places to reveal: your true feelings about anything or anyone; your cleavage; your salary; someone else’s salary; your amazing party trick.

This last point may seem to be the most innocuous one on the list, but it is the most dangerous of all. Family and close friends might be impressed by your ability to kiss your own buttocks, play Shosholoza on a comb, impersonate Julius Malema or make a coin vanish up your nose and come out of the chief executive’s ear, but your colleagues won’t be. At best they will laugh behind your back for months to come. Also, even in these uncertain times, you cannot bank on getting retrenched to save yourself further embarrassment.

But the biggest upside of not having an office party is that the risk of death or injury on the way home will be massively diminished.

Over many years of working in offices I have been frankly astonished by most companies’ lack of regard for the lives of their human resources or their potential victims.

I have been to office parties with sprung dance floors, crayfish stations, live bands and bottles of single-malt whisky. But I have never been to one where the company takes responsibility for seeing their employees safely back home. I have seen employees bused from the office to the party venue stiffly clad in their finest feathers and heels, only to be poured back out of the bus at the end of the night like a sack of chickens. By this time there are always a few who can’t find their cars, let alone drive them.

So, you see, not having an end-of-year office party could work out for the best. Which is not to say that in a recession we can’t have some cheap, clean fun.
Here are some party games to play with your colleagues to ring in the merry season. You will need steady nerves and a water cooler, that trusty dispenser of free drinks.

The Stokvel Bonus Draw
Ten or more employees can play this. Each person is given a secret number and puts an agreed amount of cash in a kitty. There is a draw and the employee with the winning number takes the pot. This is a good way to keep valued staff, who will need to stay with the company for up to a decade to get a turn.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes and Take Steps!
Step 1. Imagine how hard it is to be a boss right now. Step 2. Tell them you would like to try walking a mile in their shoes. Step 3. When you are at least four blocks from the office see what you can get for them on the open market.

CCMA Mastermind
This is a good game for managers and their teams to play together. It’s simple: whoever knows their rights, gets some, eg: the LRA form 7.11. is the first step to declaring a dispute. Who has to fill it in, when and why?

When Is My Wife’s Birthday? (clue: it’s an event, not a process)
This is a popular learning game among married male managers who have lost their PAs because of re-structuring. It is also known in some executive regions as “Where’s the bloody kitchen?”

Best Practice Makes Perfect
A company sing-a-long is an excellent way to round off an evening of fun. This is a golden opportunity to learn the national anthem in time for the 2010 World Cup to avoid a “Ras Dumisani”, a new management term for “verbal warning”.