After years of toiling in our workshop, we have finally come up with the solution to our most consistently ignored annual advice. As our avid readers have heard to the point of wanting to hurl, every year, we recommend not serving alcohol at company holiday parties. Our recommendation comes from years of representing employers in sexual harassment cases emanating from holiday party hijinks. With a few belts in them, Handsy Hank and Gropy Gary get brave and when CEO Santa starts inviting employees to sit on my lap and we’ll talk about a big bonus, the corporate revelers invariably land in front of a jury of generous Elves. As a result, we’ve been recommending no booze and maintaining a safe distance from co-workers well before anyone called it social distancing. That’s right, we’re trendsetters.
This year, the solution came to us. Many states won’t allow large gatherings. New Jersey and New York have capped indoor events at 10 revelers, and even with 25 allowed outside, nobody’s going to show up at outdoor festivities in these parts.
According to Challenger Gray’s annual survey, only 23% of employers even plan to have holiday events this year, down from 76% in 2019. Ironically, you’d think there’d be a lot of sentiment to celebrate the end of 2020 and putting it in the rearview. Of those employers that are celebrating, not surprisingly, 74% will be virtual. And since virtually nobody enjoys company holiday parties anyway, doing them virtually should be a relief to many. It sure is to us. Now employees can drink themselves unconscious and you don’t have to worry about them touching co-workers or how they’re getting home.
Of course with or without alcohol, virtual parties are not harassment proof as a group of journalists recently learned when their well-known veteran colleague reached out and touched, not just someone (see vintage AT&T ads), but himself while Zooming (in his own way). Several employees in the last 9 months have also broadcast their bathroom breaks, at least one whom admittedly did so intentionally. But he was just the CEO of Mindshare, who btw is now no longer working from home, or anywhere else.
Even in the hallowed halls of Argentina’s Congress, one lawmaker was recently suspended after being seen during a virtual lawmaking session kissing various parts of a female colleague, prompting Mitch McConnell to say, now that’s the kind of legislative action I’m talking about. Lawmaking, lovemaking, it’s all the same. Not to be outdone in the international scene though, a Philippine government official had sex with his secretary while on a Zoom call with his colleagues and later claimed that he was not “tech savvy.” Ok, that’s one way to put it.
So, even in advance of any virtual holiday party, we still recommend laying down some ground rules. Just remind the gang that policies against harassment, sexual or otherwise, still apply in a virtual world. That means that even though we’ve eliminated the DUI problem, for some, drinking and talking is still not a good combination. We also think a simple, easily understood policy mantra like, Keep your clothes on or your camera off is in order.
Some employers are using the funds they would’ve spent on the big venue, food, and booze to make the virtual venue entertaining. PayPal, for example, is hosting a 29-hour virtual party with employees able to pop in and out of different venues with live music, a magic show, cooking classes, and other activities hosted by each of the local offices around the world. Other more mundane employers are shipping champagne or full meals to each employee’s home for consumption during a virtual get together. Still others, with no champagne, just want to inflict the pain of the annual company ordeal by hosting a virtual Karaoke event. We recommend that someone with taste, keep control of the mute function and treat it like a kind of Gong Show and hope for no hard feelings. The 3M Corporation is sponsoring a virtual ugly sweater contest with significant cash prizes and a lifetime supply of Scotch Tape for the winners.
The beauty of American innovation is that there are companies that will set up and run these virtual events for you, many of which have some very cool software to keep the event flowing. One in particular caught our attention. Preciate Social has virtual social software that allows multiple conversations among virtual guests to occur at the same time. What’s most intriguing is that the platform allows participants to move toward and away from others in order to start, or most importantly, to end a conversation. Just imagine though being the one who people are moving away from even at a virtual party. But one thing software has yet to do is to make someone who’s not, virtually interesting.
This isn’t the last you’ll hear from us in 2020, cause we just want to keep the good times rolling. We’ve got more critical year-end info coming in the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you are throwing a holiday bash for your employees, have a great time, stay safe, keep it clean, and make sure you know if that camera is on.