I only once adamantly refused an assignment given to me by an employer. In fact, I refused four times! Every year there was an office party held after hours at a restaurant. Guests were invited. Alcohol was served. There was dancing.
I was responsible for fundraising, PR and marketing. It was my job to get any event into the press. I made it clear that under no circumstances whatsoever would I attend. My colleagues wanted to know why.
First, I told them that I would be happy to attend an office party, at work, even if it was right after hours, although I would prefer a staff luncheon. In fact, that is exactly what one of our subsidiaries had for their staff. I was pleased to attend and delighted to get some press coverage for them.
Then I told them that based on my experience of listening to colleagues and friends who had attended after hours off-site parties that someone always does something stupid. “Did you see what she was wearing?” “Did you hear what he said?” “Can you believe how much he drank?” “Did you see who she was dancing with?” “Frankly,” I told them, “it’s my job to promote all staff as consummate professionals. I don’t want to see you acting like a bunch of damn fools!”
In the first year, some were offended…until the morning after the party. It became an annual ritual. “Bruce, I’ve got to admit it. You were right. Did you hear what happened?” Every year I would receive the request to attend, would decline, would explain why, would be ridiculed, and then apologized to.
My colleagues were good, decent, hardworking people. But put them in a party situation, even one for work, and they forget where they are. I honestly believe that some employers hold office parties as a way to see whether or not they can trust some staff – the one’s they are thinking of promoting – to behave. In fact, I know of two cases where employers told me that as a result of their behavior at an office party two employees who were being considered (without their knowledge) for promotion were no longer considered.
If it is work related you are always “on.” Would you drink alcohol at your desk? Would you dance with a co-worker at work? Would you dress provocatively on the job? Would you invite your spouse, fiance, or friend to the office? Of course not. Why? Because it’s stupid.
Yes, there are times when it is important for the boss to meet the significant people in an employee’s life. That is why God invented restaurants with tables with four chairs. And I am willing to bet that at the restaurant there will be minimal drinking, conservative dress, and absolutely nothing to inspire gossip the morning after.