How to Act at a Corporate or Company Party

I’ve been to enough corporate parties to know first and foremost that they can be painful affairs. The larger the organization, the more numerous the cliques within that organization. And thus the more difficult it is to take a large group of people, put them all together in a restaurant or a ballroom or whatever and tell them to “have fun”.

The basic problem and the hardest one t o overcome at corporate parties has to do with group dynamics – that is – no one knows exactly how to act. I have noticed over time that the majority of people in medium-to-large corporations (a) do not necessarily get along or really respect each other and (b) have little or no respect for their bosses or supervisors. This I suppose leads to “c” which is, you don’t HAVE to like or respect each other, and that includes your boss, but you should try to during the course of a 10 hour day. Maybe that’s easier said than done these days.

Now as a result, when it comes to corporate business parties, everyone tends to act differently than they normally would. It’s human nature I suppose that dictates this type of behavior. People act differently in front of their friends, their peers, bosses, subordinates, whoever. Then add a spouse and/or children into the mix and you have created at best an opportunity for tension, drinking and stupidity.

Even drinking at corporate parties is becoming a thing of the past. Figure that employees are scared enough of saying or doing anything that can be misconstrued as sexist or inappropriate when they are SOBER! So taking the same risk when they are inebriated is sheer madness.

I believe the most successful corporate parties I’ve ever been too were during my years in the Armed Forces. All of the above mentioned potentials-for-disaster were present, but basically because everyone was ORDERED to have a good time, pretty much every subordinate and supervisor alike went through the motions of having fun for fear of being court-martialed. I guess everyone was subconsciously following the above-mentioned rule “c”.

I once did some consulting work for an overseas aerospace firm who had two distinct types of corporate parties and both of them were unsuccessful. The first one was a corporate Christmas party: a sit-down dinner where the management didn’t even attend because they knew they were all dispised. So a large group of disgruntled employees sat around and ate the companies food and drank the companies liquer and within minutes fell into the same routine that they followed at the water cooler: they complained about work, the boss and life in general. The second type of party was an attempt to improve on the previous year’s corporate Christmas party disaster: another corporate party but with the inclusion of male and female strippers. So now we had disgruntled employees of both sexes who were feeling discriminated against. And quite a few guys with a lot of explaining to do to their wives. I can only imagine what would have happened if this company was stateside.

I’m not sure what the solution is when it comes to corporate parties. Obviously not all such affairs are recipes for disaster. There are many companies that foster great working relationships. And believe me, if I knew the secret for good inter-personal relationships in the office I’d be a rich man ten times over. But I’m prone to believe the success of many corporate parties begins at the top and filters down. If the staff feels loved and appreciated they will have a good time at the party. Or they’ll fake it really well.

Which brings up another hazard of corporate parties – gift giving. The risk of gift-giving, especially if it involves your boss or anyone up the corporate chain is that you’re giving gifts with intentions other than those related to the holidays. I believe this is called “sucking up”, “kissing butt”, and “playing favorites” to name but a few phrases that are printable.

The unwritten rule if you’re far down the corporate ladder and looking up at the pantheon of executives that pay your salary, is that your gift should be of nominal value. At the very least consider giving a gift on behalf of an entire department. That way you all get accused of sucking up. Within your peer group, personalized gifts – pens, money clips and business card holders are all a little worn out but at least have some lasting value. I read the other day that iPods and laptop computers were the latest corporate gift craze. I should probably point that out to the folks who have been giving me Cheese Wiz for the last couple of years.

Speaking of cheese, there are probably some common sense ideas to at least get your next corporate party heading in the right direction. Plan the party in advance and send out corporate party invitations with plenty of lead time. Make sure you put an RSVP on the corporate party invitation so you know how many to plan for. Check the dates so you don’t overlap your party with a holiday – like Christmas for example. Theme parties are good, but not necessarily good for corporate parties. Nothing worse than embarrassing your boss by setting the limbo bar to low.

Now. it’s not always true that people just show up for the food. People like to mingle. They enjoy a good time. A ‘good time” may not necessarily equate to dancing per se. But certainly some type of entertainment pays big dividends. Just make sure it’s not strippers popping out of a cake.

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