Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Company Parties - the Horror, the Horror...

Of course I will return to the subject of the Libertarian Party at a later date, but it might be best to step back and assess what happens before commenting again at the end of the week. With a bit of luck, I may have some new information to bring you on a number of fronts.

I'm actually supposed to be somewhere else as I type this. Two fellas from my work, both of whom I have a lot of time for, are retiring, and so a sort of 'planned impromptu party' has been thrown in their honour for any colleagues or ex-colleagues who want to either say goodbye or congratulate them on their parole. Entertainment was being lined up for the show, and yours truly, having written an album a few years ago, was approached to be one of the said 'star performers'. Apparently the dog who breathes fire was ruled out when his fee demands went beyond the designated budget of er, zero.

My unwillingness to do it was in part due to a sense that being reduced to the role of human freak show for the amusement of others was not exactly this bunny's idea of a wild Wednesday. A friend of mine, who has seen me refuse the overtures of senior people on three separate occasions, came over this morning and said, "fair play for refusing to do it - they just want circus acts." Have a guess how many from management were putting themselves forward for this ritual in public humiliation? Got it in one. You see in companies, you're always encouraged to have a laugh, as long as it is at the expense of someone too weak to defend themselves. That sounds like plain old schoolyard bullying to me, and I want no part of it.

In fact the whole spectre of the company party leaves me positively sub-zero. For the sake of this discussion, I'll leave aside the predictable issues of people talking shop and office politics, the obvious problem of extra-curricular activities and one night stands that create difficult atmospheres in the following weeks, and the pathetic sight of grown men looking for someone, somewhere to collapse in a heap, throw up, or reveal a bit of a 'thing' they've had for someone in a public and mutually embarrassing fashion. Basically, any excuse for adults to gossip like giggling schoolgirls singing a rude take on a nursery rhyme. All of this is sad, but is not the main thrust of why I detest the 'social side' of work as much as I do.

The premise upon which it is based is complete bollocks, namely that a business comprises of people who are all 'one big happy family'. It's very interesting how people in management generally use concept this as a tool with which to manipulate people and bind them into a robotic and homogenous block. After all, the free-thinking individual, the maverick, the loose cannon, is the single biggest threat to the bully or control freak. You never hear the word 'family' used when they are announcing mass redundancies or stitching someone up on bullshit 'performance management', do you? Nor should they, because businesses are nothing of the sort. They are, like society as a whole, made up of individuals, some of whom merely want to earn a living and some who genuinely wish to stretch and push themselves.

Of course, they need to be civil with each other in order for things to get done, and some will no doubt make friends at work as I have, but any coercion of an individual to participate in 'team activity' in their own time has no possible justification. The motto of this site is 'Conventional Wisdom is No Wisdom'. Well here's another for you - 'Compulsory Fun is No Fun'. If a person dances because a revolver is held to his head, does that mean he is no longer terrified?

In short, the notion of the 'company family' is just a tool of manipulation, a contrived greater good. As is always the case, its intention is to serve as a device of power, to impose a sense of guilt upon those who just wanna earn their shiny new penny then go do their own thing. The fundamental aim of the control freak is to get into your head and convince you that by doing what you want to do in your own time you are somehow being 'selfish' or 'letting the side down'. I hope they realise after this episode that they're wasting their time trying it on me and don't make the effort again.

The other main issue with the company party or outing is the blurred grey zone that exists between two clear areas marked 'work' and 'play'. It would appear that there are rules in any company event that go well beyond the law of the land that serves as a useful guide of what not to do when on a typical night out - i.e don't break any windows or punch someone in the face.

If a mate of mine is boring the shit out of me with a tale about his car, his girlfriend or some other area of his life, then I am faced with two choices. I can either politely put up with him and hope the conversation eventually moves on, or take the (rarely used) route of saying, "look, this is making me lose the will to fucking live - can we please talk about football, or music or something vaguely, er, interesting?" I can count the number of times I have lost patience like that on one hand, but the fundamental point is - I have a choice in that situation.

Now replace your mate with a member of middle management, who has actually bored you to the point of reaching for the whiskey and the revolver on a daily basis for the last few years anyway. You may officially be in 'play' mode, but it would appear that the rules and the ranking system of 'work' still apply. No get out of jail card exists, and nor does the right to tell the person to shut up and leave you alone, as you could with, say a tedious 'life story' specialist in a bar. Instead you must sit and listen to him reeling off his triumphs while unveiling his grand masterplan to achieve world domination by 2014. Just fuck off won't you? Of course I'd be sacked for 'gross misconduct' if I actually said that, which is probably another good reason not to turn up.

When I consider this socio-occupational minefield and the set of nuances that need to be negotiated, I come to the conclusion that there is no fun involved in reality. Fun involves having the freedom to remove yourself from situations that aren't, to laugh out loud that "actually, this is fucking awful - the food and the band were crap and there's no atmosphere" and to leave early without being dubbed a 'killjoy' or fearing some kind of reprisal. Rules, group pressure, manipulation and compulsion do not sit comfortably with the notion of enjoying oneself. I don't know if the people who organise these things understand the central paradox at work but I'll present it to you anyway. Just look really happy and smile for the camera so everyone knows how much fun you're having. And by the way, you're on a warning if you don't.

If either of the two retirees want to meet me privately for a drink so I can thank them for their time and wish them well, I'd be more than happy to. They're good people and good company and it would be a nice, pleasant, civilised thing to do. Who knows, I might actually enjoy it...


  1. spot on mate. Never read a truer sentence than "the free-thinking individual, the maverick, the loose cannon, is the single biggest threat to the bully or control freak".

  2. Very incisive as always. The 'we are a family' lie is one of the most pernicious workplace manipulation tools and it is so good to see it being exposed.

    Our society has made it impossible for people to freely state that they are motivated by self interest. There is nothing wrong or shameful in that. It is an entirely reasonable and rational drive.

    The fact that a person is motivated make money or achieve a more interesting and influential position in a company doesn't mean that they don't care about work colleagues or that they are vicious exploiters. The assumption that they must be these things results in desperate attempts to create false relationships and the demand that you should be a member of one big, happy, false family.

    I like conpartmentalising life. I am happily liberated from work now, but when I was finding it pressured or exhausting, what I wanted to do was enjoy the company of completely different people, do different things and be as indiscreet as I wanted if ever I should choose to discuss work related matters.

    Daz is right. Stuff your phoney family and fake fun. Work is a place where you go to do things and get an honest return for it. That is good enough.

  3. Poor poor miserable you, is it lonely not having any friends? How sad that you stay in a job that you obviously hate and you don't have the balls to get up and leave. Stop being one of lifes moaners and get out there and live your life, who knows you might even enjoy it!

  4. Daz - this world you describe is completely at odds with the world I face everyday at work and we both work for the same company!!? I won't name the company on here in case you don't wish it known but I can assure all your other readers that 99% of what you describe does not apply here and I'm shocked you think it does!? I have participated in many social events whilst I've worked here and on every single occasion it has been because I wanted to and not because I felt compelled to by some sinister, unseen puppet master (I must also point out that this is first time I have heard the expression 'Company Family') There have also been events that I have NOT attended and at no point has this rendered me with a black mark against my name. Daz, these rules you seem to think govern the office and the social activities that are borne out of the relationships formed here simply don’t exist. You are free to come and go on ‘nights out’ as you please and this absolutely will not affect your standing in the workplace. Of course there are always ‘boundaries’ that must not be crossed when you are socialising but this is the case in any social situation you find yourself in and like these other situations you need to adequately gauge what these boundaries yourself and act accordingly – this applies to all aspects of society and is certainly not confined to relationships at work. Is it so wrong to get on with and socialise with people you work with? No-one is forcing you to do it and it certainly isn’t in the job description! You spend a lot of time with people, you make friends, you go for a beer – end of.

  5. Anon 1 - thanks for the concern. I have quite a few friends - no doubt I'm not as popular as you but hey it's not a contest...

    My next move is to go into full-time writing, so why go from one shit-heap to another in the meantime?

    Anon 2 - firstly it's worth pointing out I had a life before we met, assuming we are in fact work colleagues. Much of what I'm talking about here dwells on the past as well as the present.

    I'd ask you two questions:- firstly, when you're on one of these 'social events' are you in work or play mode? I'd argue that if the rules of work still apply then there is no fun and a bible of rules don't sit well together...

    Forgive me but if we do work together you sound like one of management indulging in a bit of PR or defensive spin. Non-attendance is not counted against you or seen as a black mark? Sorry but that is errant bollocks - I've had the MD himself look at me like he's weighing up where to bury the axe after my no-show at our open day a few years ago - yes I found the whole thing very intimidating and perhaps you should ask him about it?

    Apologies to our readers for things getting a bit awkward...

  6. Just a regular 'rank and file' like you I'm afraid mate! I've got to ask though - 'PR?' 'Defensive Spin?' Where do you think we work!? I doubt very much that if a member of our management did read your original piece they would feel the need to engage in a defensive PR battle with you - what would be the point? You have not named where you work so no damage can be done to the company's image. I cannot comment on your missed open day experience as I know nothing about it however it does sound rather different to a night out socialising with friends - perhaps best not to let a few isolated experiences dictate the way you perceive things. I don't have different work/play 'modes' and I don't find myself governed by differing sets of rules which are dependent on the surroundings in which my colleagues and I may find ourselves in. Colleagues are colleagues wherever they are so the rules of interaction never really change. If you feel people are worth socialising with then socialise with them. If they are not worth it then don't - it just isn't worth over complicating the matter with ill-perceived notions of 'social score cards' and the like. To use a quote from a parlance that has probably long gone out of fashion - 'Take a chill pill man!'

  7. First up, my apologies for thinking you might be a member of management - I appreciate it's quite a slur on your character. We don't pay attention to fashion here - I like the whole 'chill pill' line it remains cool to this day...

    Of course there are areas clearly defined as 'work' and 'play' - you're always going to act differently down the pub with your mates than you would in an important meeting at work.

    Now does having alcohol in a situation where you are encouraged to 'enjoy yourself' but also told that the 'rules of work' still apply blur the lines between these two modes or not? I can't see how it doesn't...

    It may be that we're not going to agree on this but many thanks for contributing anyway...