Etiquette experts Debrett’s has extensive advice for how to negotiate the work Christmas party, including retaining one’s professional gloss and never doing anything one might regret in the morning.
Debrett’s has never been to a channel Christmas party.
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But with a threatened Eurozone double-dip recession, limping distributor sales and ubiquitous social media savvy smartphones that can flash drunken indiscretions to a potential audience of thousands within seconds, it can feel like the good old debauched yuletide knees-up is receding into channel folklore.
Gordon Davies, managing director at Adepteq, firmly believes the gloom of economic depression has played a major part in dimming the lights of festival jollity. Nobody wants to stump up large wedges to fund free-flowing jollies anymore. Though in his case, that might not be a bad thing.
Davies is almost nostalgic when he recounts one vendor’s Christmas party which led to an unscripted encounter with a Filipino maid. Davies pitched up at the bash and was the picture of polite conversation and warm bonhomie as he sat round the table scoffing the Christmas fare and quaffing drink... after drink... after drink.
Despite a creeping awareness that he was getting increasingly drunk he managed to maintain a respectable facade. So, when it was time to head to to his hotel room he managed to stand up straight and say a polite goodbye to his hosts. He left the room and then the lights went out.
In the laundry room, naked
Technically the term is known as a blackout. You know the type of thing. Your last memory is arguing with a brick wall then the next thing you wake up in a police cell having being locked up for your own safety because you were found 'playing with the traffic'.
Or, as in Davies' case, you wake to the shrill screams of a near-hysterical hotel maid.
“What's the problem?," he naturally thought. “Has Jesus returned?”
It was only then he became aware of his surroundings. He was in the hotel's basement, the laundry room to be precise, curled up on a pile of mucky sheets – and completely naked. Strangely, his clothes were next to him, folded ever-so-neatly into a uniform pile. And it wasn't the maid who had folded them.
Ah, the good old days. It ain't like that anymore.
Softcat's sales and marketing head honcho, Dave Simpson, simply says, “I turn up and go and that's it.” There isn't anything else to say about its Christmas party.
Over at Equanet, The Channel is told, “We don't have Christmas parties now.”
Gulp. Are things that bad?
It would seem so. But there are a few souls determined to honour an age-old tradition of getting hammered and then harassing someone who shouldn't really be harassed – at all. Ever. A case in point is Bechtle's UK team who were once invited to meet their German overlords in the fatherland.
In the spirit of warm cameraderie that exists with our German cousins, one of the UK sales team insisted a German colleague join him in a flaming sambuca. The colleague declined. The salesman insisted. The colleague declined. Again. The salesman insisted. You get the picture. It was after a lot of discreet gurning from the guy's colleagues that his drunken armour was pierced and he slowly realised that perhaps he shouldn't be so puppy dog affectionate and with the firm’s resolutely Teutonic and increasingly unamused CEO.
A few years back, distributors were stuffing a cash wedge into the hands of reseller account managers so they could take their team for a Yuletide jolly. But even this is becoming increasingly rare as the recession bites and distributors become wary of showing favouritism to one reseller over another.
There's also the issue of scale. Scaling back that is. Whereas vendors would previously throw a company-wide party inviting everyone, and all the liggers the event would hold, these days it's more likely to be a department that does the honours. Which of course cuts out all the fun and games/potential for violence of rampant salesmen competing with the tech support team for the affections of the women in marketing.
In the absence of a department-hosted Christmas party, the next thing down on the scale is an executive lunch. If a triple-digit recession follows this year's money woes, perhaps next year’s executive lunch will be scaled down to cheese and biscuits in the car park?
Andy Trish, managing director of NCI Technologies, reckons the Christmas party blanket is only temporary and when the economy picks up companies will cast off recessionary caution and you’ll see the re-emergence of the full blown Christmas lash within the next few years.
Trish also thinks that because people have other things to do, the Chrismas party is no longer a highlight of the working year: “Many of my staff have other priorities and would rather be spending time with family or doing shopping on the run-up to the holiday.”
That said, NCI of course hosts an annual shindig and last year’s event threw up an interesting encounter with a couple of staff members. Galvanised by the temporary courage that only the liquid fuel can engender a couple of sales guys cornered Trish at the Christmas party. They insisted on knowing what he thought of their performance over the year.
Imbued with the spirit of the occasion, thinking about a diplomatic answer, and speaking with the honesty that he’s renowned for he summed it up in one word: “Crap.” A few days later they handed in their notice. “I was shocked,” he admitted.
Er… what’s happening?
However, the tale does have a happy ending. Sort of. In search of greener pastures the sales guys shacked up with a rival reseller. But it wasn’t too long before they were back at NCI, having discovered that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. In a roundabout way their Christmas courage led them in large circle back to their starting point.
Another reseller recalls another type of Yuletide sales motivation activity. Entering one company office close to Christmas time he couldn’t help but notice that the sales team were in various stages of undress. Some were fully clothed, some were missing shirts, others lacked trousers and one guy was sitting there in his underwear – and nothing else.
Following the great British tradition of discreet diplomacy, stiff upper lips and not stating the bleeding obvious, he tried to keep a lid on his curiosity. However, the sight of acres of rolling and dimpled flesh wobbling jelly-like around the office eventually got the better of him.
“Er… what’s happening? he asked. He was told that the semi-clad chaps were in fact sales miscreants who had performed poorly in the pre-Christmas period.
The lower down the sales ranking, the more clothes that had to be discarded. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to attend the company’s Christmas party but if the "flesh incident" was anything to go by then you can bet the party was "lively". You can use your imagination to interpret "lively".
And on the subject of bared flesh, perhaps we can also blame social networks and smartphones for the fun-dampening.
One reseller points out that while he sometimes goes on the lash with a work friend and they get up to all sorts of high jinx – he wouldn't elaborate but maybe it’s along the lines of those traditional British pastimes: car-jacking, smoking crack and dogging. But come the Christmas party, the friend suddenly acquires an almost saintly demeanour.
“Everyone is too conscious of Twitter and Facebook. Nobody wants to get caught out. If you get drunk and do something silly it can be flashed around Twitter and Facebook in an instant. Your friends might think it’s funny but there's a good chance your boss won't. They tend to be less forgiving about Christmas indiscretions than they used to be,” he said.
Trish at NCI also points out that bosses have also become particularly wary of the curse of social media. They don’t want to get caught in the "act", whatever the "act" may be.
Shame really, there’s probably nothing more heartwarming and pedestal-busting than seeing your boss become the latest internet phenomenon as he attempts to drunkenly negotiate a flight of stairs or let loose those repressed feelings of attraction for the company secretary.
One of Trish’s most memorable Christmases wasn’t a channel party though. It involved accompanying an officer of the British army on a plain clothes shopping trip in Northern Ireland and a gun that was accidentally dropped on the floor in the middle of a crowded shop. This of course leaves the path open to jokes about the office party going off with a bang. But let’s not go there.
Let’s simply remember that just like the office decorations and the boss’s unleashed affection for his executive assistant, what goes up must come down, and the economy will surely turn around eventually.
So whether you find yourself this Christmas sipping a sherry in a lonely corner or simply poisoning the neighbours' baying dog, raise a toast to the future. Better times, and wilder Christmas parties, are surely just around the corner. ®