Is it ethical to attend an office Christmas party?
Ask Ethan: Our columnist offers advice on how to negotiate the dangers of the 'festive' season.
Our office Christmas party is coming up, and frankly I find them to be a real drag. All my colleagues want to talk about is golf and their sizeable bonuses. I desperately want to avoid going. Can I just tell my boss the whole thing is unethical?
I fully understand your concerns. I personally wouldn’t be seen dead at an office party. Thankfully, my colleagues at spiked know my feelings all too well, and have thoughtfully not invited me.
First of all, it is of course utterly unacceptable to have a ‘Christmas’ party. That is, by definition, a discriminatory affair which excludes those of other denominations and none. As spelt out in the expanded Guidelines on Inter-Personal Abuse, excluding anybody from your group or conversation comes under the heading of Office Bullying. Other recognised forms of workplace bullying include the making of any inappropriate remarks, jokes or gestures (and remember, inappropriateness is in the ear of the offended). Which sounds to me like a pretty good description of an office Christmas do. Don’t be another sad victim – stay safe at home and (a word to the wise) turn your mobile phone off to avoid those bullying txt messages from drunken ‘colleagues’.
Indeed wherever two or three are gathered in the name of work, don’t be among them. Any social occasion involving business inevitably turns to the most base of concerns. As you movingly relate, office discussions always turn to bragging about material wealth. This creates a powerful pressure to increase consumption. Suddenly, you must have a faster car, a bigger house, a flashier mobile phone. Morally, there is a thin line between golf clubs and seal clubs.
The whole dreadful performance of an office party is a carnival of masculinity, every interaction dripping with testosterone. It is no accident that almost every war in human history was caused by men. As a guilty member of that dreadful sex, it would surely have been better if we had all been castrated at birth.
It is no coincidence that such parties are often referred to as a ‘bash’. Apparently, one in two office parties end with colleagues fighting, undoubtedly fuelled by the excessive quantities of alcohol consumed. Perhaps there would be fewer fights if people didn’t insist on wasting money on inappropriate and unwanted gifts from ‘secret Santa’, always a source of tension – not to mention environmental waste.
Frankly, such repulsive behaviour is as infectious as the coming bird flu pandemic. Even women can get swept along in its aggressive wake. Only last year, Sheba the Unbeliever arrived home somewhat tired and emotional from her own work do. When I simply offered some constructive criticism about her behaviour, she told me, and it pains me to relate this, to ‘f**king lighten up, you stiff prick’ and to ‘get the rod out of my arse’. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that this kind of language had little to do with our own relationship and everything to do with the chardonnay-soaked salesmen she had just left.
Worse, one in three parties results in incidents of sexual harassment. According to another survey, 49 per cent of people would ‘go all the way’ at the office party should the opportunity arise. It is no coincidence that the number of abortions increases in the months after Christmas. (Still, better that than bringing yet more humans into the world, as I noted in my previous column.)
I wonder how much of that sex is consensual? If you must consume an alcoholic drink, it would certainly be advisable to keep an eye on it lest it be ‘spiked’ with a date-rape drug – or worse, more alcohol. Even when chemical intoxication is not being employed, just think of the power relations going on when dreadful fat lecherous men take advantage of defenceless administrative staff! As a sensible article in Canada’s Financial Post rightly states, ‘ditch the mistletoe, as it only serves to encourage intimate contact and the very type of behaviour that could spell trouble and sour the office atmosphere faster than the Grinch can steal Christmas’. Not to mention the vandalism it does to mistletoe bushes.
Then there are the other environmental impacts. Consuming alcohol, ‘party snacks’ and decorations means consuming resources, too. It takes tonnes of carbon dioxide to power those irritating lights on the Christmas tree – a Christmas tree that can no longer absorb carbon dioxide since it was wrenched from the ground and shipped from Scandinavia.
Even if you have little concern for planetary preservation, there is always self-preservation. Think of all that smoke you will have to inhale on top of the alcohol. Obviously nobody is allowed to actually smoke at office parties these days – that would be licensed manslaughter. But they still carry the toxic fumes in every stitch and pore and on their every breath, poisoning you as they stand there ‘innocently’ smiling and chatting away. In this enlightened age, when tobacco is rightly viewed like asbestos, surely responsible employers should make smokers go to separate office parties – and indeed, work in separate offices.
Smoking is far from the only personal health hazard. One in five Christmas parties end with a tragic and nasty accident. You might think it advisable on the spur of the moment to submit to peer pressure from the office morons and sit on the photocopier – but spare a thought for the nurse with so many more important things to do who is going to have to waste her late shift retrieving shards of glass from your guilt-racked posterior. With the rise of ethical rationing in the health service, it must be only a matter of time before hospitals refuse to treat photocopier abusers on the NHS.
Marcus: it is your moral duty to start a movement to abolish this heinous institution. If you are forced to socialise with colleagues this Christmas, suggest a healthy work lunch. There are many fine vegan restaurants springing up around the country. Sharing a platter of local and seasonal vegetables and a jug of ‘Gaia’s ale’ (that’s water, in case any younger readers get the wrong idea) could provide not only an occasion for festive relaxation, but also an opportunity to lead off a discussion on the dangers of meat production and consumption. I am sure that there is a silent majority in most workplaces who would appreciate the opportunity to get away from the liver-poisoning, STD-transmitting, planet-damaging disaster that is the office party.
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