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High-Income Workers Report Most ‘Inappropriate’ Behavior at Holiday Parties
Budget cuts, prior ‘mishaps’ curtail festivities, survey finds

By Dana Wilkie  11/26/2013
 
If your office is packed with employees earning more than $100,000 a year, here’s the good news: Your company is more likely than others to host a holiday party, serve alcohol at an open bar and offer transportation to those who overindulge.

Here’s the bad news: Your organization is least likely to enforce rules about party behavior, and your workers are most inclined to act inappropriately during the festivities and then be disciplined for it later on.

And here’s the mixed news: While your employees feel more compelled than others to attend the corporate affair, more of them also look forward to it. Maybe that’s because nearly one in four of these high-income employees say holiday parties have led to “romantic connections.”

Those are the findings from a national survey conducted Nov. 1-4, 2013, by the North Carolina firm Public Policy Polling, which canvassed 573 working Americans to ascertain the culture of company holiday parties.

Overall, the survey found that the majority of employers (71 percent) usually have holiday parties, while 29 percent don’t. More than one-third of workers earning from $25,000 to $50,000 reported that their company never hosts holiday gatherings—the largest percentage of any income group.

“This may be very connected to what type of industry is involved,” said Sandy Egan, director of service promotion at Workplace Options, which helps employees balance their work and personal lives. “Some companies with varied work schedules may have trouble finding a time for a party that all can attend. And certainly some employers are worried about liability.”

An absence of holiday shindigs may also have to do with budget cuts. About half of those who work in the service, finance, insurance, real estate, health care, transportation, communications and utilities industries say their annual festivities have been curtailed because of company finances. Fifty-six percent of employees in manufacturing reported that their company has no holiday parties.

Not so for those earning $100,000-plus: Fully half of them say their company always hosts holiday parties—a far greater percentage than those earning lower wages.

This same group of workers also report that they are “always” served alcohol at parties (52 percent), are provided with an open bar (73 percent) and are offered company-paid transportation (35 percent).

But while high earners are most likely to say their company monitors alcohol assumption “very much” (55 percent), they’re also most likely to say that their employer doesn’t have rules about party behavior (54 percent) and that their colleagues acted inappropriately during the festivities (34 percent). 

Dreading the Annual Event

Which employees are most likely to feel they’re expected to attend holiday parties? Those in transportation, communications and utilities. One in four who work in transportation, retail and wholesale think that if they don’t show up, it will reflect poorly on their commitment to work.

Nearly one in four employees actually “dread” such events. Those working in the retail and wholesale trades are most likely to feel this way; those in education are least likely.

“I think there is always going to be a segment of employees who keep their work and social spheres separate,” Egan said. “Some may see it as just another work function that they have to get dressed up for. The office party is also competing for time during the busy holiday season. Let’s also remember that there are a lot of people who dread going to work, too.”

Under the Mistletoe

Overall, only 6 percent of respondents said they or their colleagues have made romantic connections at their annual holiday gatherings. Those connections seem to happen most often at parties hosted by finance, insurance and real estate companies (18 percent); by transportation, communication and utility companies (20 percent); or for those earning more than $100,000 (24 percent). They seem to happen least often among government employees, those in the retail and wholesale trades, and those in the education field.

“I think we are talking about taking the office flirtation to the next level,” Egan said. “The party atmosphere probably lends itself better to romance—everyone in their party clothes, away from the glare of fluorescent lighting. Maybe the party seems like the best time to make the move.”

Bad Behavior

One in 10 employees reports regretting something he said or did at the office holiday function. Those working in the retail and wholesale trades report this the most. More people in the service industry report that their gatherings were canceled because of a past party “mishap.”

“Mishaps,” of course, may have something to do with alcohol being served.

“If I use my imagination, I can certainly think of things that people wish they hadn’t said or done after a cocktail or two,” Egan said. “It could be the sharing of too much personal information or maybe voicing an opinion that they would normally keep to themselves during work hours.”

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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