Office fun is back. A new survey indicates that companies who shied away from holiday parties after #MeToo are now placing them back on the calendar. Have we evolved to a new normal where coworkers can drink and socialize without fear of crossing boundaries, or have we just forgotten about #MeToo?
An annual survey conducted by recruiting and outplacement consultancy Challenger Gray & Christmas found that 76% of companies are planning to hold holiday parties this year—that’s up over 10% from last year. In fact, this is the highest percentage of companies holding parties since 2016 when 80% planned festivities. Many workplaces cancelled parties in 2017 when accusations against Harvey Weinstein and others launched the #MeToo movement.
In addition, more than half (53%) of the companies throwing parties this year are planning to serve alcohol. This is an increase of 5% over last year. There is sufficient academic research indicating that alcohol consumption is linked to an increase in workplace sexual harassment. In particular, the research suggests that alcohol can lead to offensive or degrading remarks and actions, usually directed at women by men.
So, are we ready for all this post-#MeToo partying? Andrew Challenger, vice president at the firm who conducted the survey thinks we are. Challenger told CBS News, "The new normal is a party where alcohol can be served, people are responsible, and there is an awareness among men, women and company executives that potentially dangerous situations can occur and everyone is mindful."
I also envision a day when women and men can socialize at holiday parties without any #MeToo concerns. Coworkers will be able to share drinks and celebrate the year’s accomplishments while respecting boundaries. It would be great if that’s where we are now, but I’m not convinced.
Even the survey results offer suggestions that perhaps we haven’t evolved to a better, post-#MeToo place, but instead are reverting backwards. Those companies that were having parties were asked directly if they had any concerns about inappropriate celebrating following #MeToo. Almost 40% said they had no concerns, that they had not addressed this issue, and they don’t plan to address it before the party. That’s hardly a promising statistic. These issues don’t disappear on their own.
The Evolved Holiday Party
Those that wish to evolve to a new type of holiday festivities can do more than warn employees of the perils of partying with colleagues. If alcohol is involved, for example, organizations should recognize that employees might hook up. Several surveys suggest that hooking up at a holiday party is anything but unusual. Teaching employees how to obtain consent professionally is essential before the partying ensues.
Party planners should also determine the goal of the holiday party. That is, figure out why are you holding an office party in the first place. Is it to reward employees? A new Monster.com poll suggests that a significant majority (60%) of us do not look forward to holiday office parties, so these parties may not serve as a great reward. If this is your goal, perhaps another type of reward might be more satisfying for employees.
Perhaps the goal of the holiday party is networking among employees. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really work either, because people have a tendency to interact with those they already know at these functions. That said, the holiday party could be redesigned to include activities that encourage interactions between employees.
Ultimately, the goal is to get to Challenger’s vision of a workplace where employees can socialize together and respect boundaries. I’m absolutely convinced that we can get there—it’s necessary if women want to achieve equality with men in the workplace. But we still have a little work ahead of us, let’s proceed with caution.