Saturday, November 26, 2011
'tis (almost) the season to be jolly...
Freelancers, teleworkers and remote employees; part-time contracts, multiple employers and, of course, the global financial climate: just some of the long list of factors that have conspired to create a very different image for the World of Work (or lack thereof) in general. But amidst the flurry of changes, one tradition has endured against all odds: the Christmas office party, it seems, refuses to die a dignified death.
At their worst (or best, depending on your point of view), the COP is an infamous breeding ground for bad behaviour. Got an urge to make a pass at a co-worker, tell your boss what a tosser he/she is or spill the beans on an inappropriate crush/liaison? After three pints of lukewarm wine-in-a-box glugged in an awkward environment, your moment has arrived. At their best (or worst, ditto previous parenthesis), the COP exists to remind us that the season of goodwill to all men (yup, even those you secretly despise) is upon us once again, in which case you put a bit of glitter in your hair, dump a fiver’s worth of destined-for-the-charity-shop novelty gift in the secret santa sack and leave before the inevitable chaos sets in; whichever way you look at it, the scene is set for yet another rerun of a farcical sitcom wearied by endless multi-media/gossip mill analysis every December. But those armchair social commentators should make hay while the winter sun shines; as the 9-to-5, Mon-Fri schedule is fast becoming obsolete, this year’s corporate Christmas shebang might well be the last.
Like most of my immediate contemporaries, I’m a self-employed freelancer who spends the vast majority of my working hours glued to a keyboard in front of a computer screen in the corner of my living room at home; as a result, the terms ‘team building exercise’, ‘lunch hour’, ‘contract of employment’, ‘paid annual leave’ and ‘appraisal’ just aren’t in my working life lexicon - and neither are seasonal team building get-togethers. So for me, any COP I’m invited to is a freelance contract too, either making it a far more enjoyable proposition than it might be for those who are obligated to attend...or making me feel like a complete outsider if I do. But let’s spare a thought for the record-breaking 56% of workers in ‘traditional’ employment that have undertaken countless hours of unpaid overtime this year in an attempt to guarantee job security (source: YouGov), and the millions more who have accepted part-time/job share agreements in order to avoid total redundancy. Millions more again, meanwhile, have embarked on short-term contracts, work three part-time jobs or have no option but to accept ‘total job insecurity’ as an unwritten part of any contract they’re lucky enough to have, while a whole raft of sad souls know already that they’re facing redundancy in 2012. Given such circumstances, is it really possible to party like there’s no appointment at the Job Centre waiting in January’s cruel wings... and should the office really be blowing budgets that could be put to much better use (for example, paying those unpaid overtimers, perhaps?) on flaccid mini-sausages and cheap Chardonnay? The ghost of Christmas future predicts that the office mum might not be visiting Iceland at all next year.
But perhaps Scrooge isn’t ready to gatecrash yet another Great British Tradition just yet. As long as there are inappropriate liaisons to be had, cleavages to be photocopied, grievances to air and bitter sorrows that need to be drowned, the COP will live on. As for me, I’ll be decorating my monitor with tinsel, putting a plate of cold mini-quiches on my desk and raising a plastic beaker of warm wine to myself on the last working day of December; here’s hoping I behave myself - after all, I’ve got a great boss.