On Wednesdays, we focus on the workplace. Today, a dreaded workplace ritual.


You'd better have a very good excuse on hand if you plan to skip the office holiday party this year. These employer-sponsored affairs often come with an implied obligation to attend. Lucy Kellaway has pondered the perils of the annual office gathering in her workplace column for the Financial Times.

We got her on the line at her office in London. Lucy, I think I'm calling you to commiserate.

Ms. LUCY KELLAWAY (Columnist, Financial Times): Yes indeed. I think commiserations are really in order. For me, this is one of the low points of the year. It's completely compulsory. You can't say, oh, I just don't feel like it. I'm not coming. You have to go. You have to look as if you're having a great time. I think it's really hard because you're in one frame of mind for work - partying is a totally different thing. The two just don't mix - oil and water.

MONTAGNE: Now there is a classically bad office party. We all know it, or think we know it, at least.

Ms. KELLAWAY: The really, really classic bad party is something that is very hyped up, so it's really stressful. So you're with people at different levels in the hierarchy. There's loads of booze, which in itself a problem because if you drink too much, you are likely to make an absolutely idiot of yourself. If you stay sober, you really do have a bad night.

MONTAGNE: I gather from your column that you got drunk once.

Ms. KELLAWAY: I think it's very, very unkind of you to mention that, I must say. It was, indeed, many, many, many years ago. I have tried to draw a veil. And actually, I was so drunk that I really can hardly remember it. I was then working for a financial institutional traders. It was sort of ghastly because it was a sort of mass group drunken occasion that left everybody really uneasy the next day. Bad idea.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk advice. What would you say to people looking to make their office party more bearable?

Ms. KELLAWAY: Don't go for some enormously expensive do. And try and keep the groups fairly small. I think that if you have departmental parties rather than parties for a whole company, they tend to be rather easier and more manageable. And try and wrap up early.

So I think if you start off with the idea that this is a necessary evil that we have to all go through and let's try and keep it as sort of friendly as possible, it's probably not going to be too bad.

MONTAGNE: Why do businesses persist in having office parties?

Ms. KELLAWAY: Yeah, you see this is so interesting because they're expensive, nobody enjoys them, they're really stressful, they can result in sort of sexual harassment lawsuits and all sorts of nasties - and yet they remain compulsory.

Every year, there are a few companies that are cutting costs who say, I'm afraid this year there will be no party. And the uproar is unbelievable, even from the people who never enjoyed them, anyway. And that's because they're seen as a gesture. They're a gesture from the management to the staff, and that gesture has to be made come what may.

MONTAGNE: So when is your party?

Ms. KELLAWAY: Actually, a little secret: I'm going to be away on holiday for our Christmas party, so I don't have to go at all this year.

MONTAGNE: Well, thanks for joining us and happy holidays.

Ms. KELLAWAY: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Lucy Kellaway writes the management column for the Financial Times, and she is also the author of the satirical novel, "Who Moved My Blackberry?"

YDSTIE: And you can read Lucy Kellaway's column on office parties and get more advice on surviving the annual holiday ritual at

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.