Office parties more sedate, but still kicking

Thu Dec 2, 2010 4:45pm EST
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By Basil Katz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In a time when chain smoking, off-color jokes and three-martini lunches have largely faded from the workplace, the holiday office party survives.

Despite being toned down amid a shaky economy, sensitized by sexual harassment cases and sobered by the dangers of drunk driving, those parties are a minefield of potential embarrassments and worse.

Hoping to keep bad behavior at bay, companies may host a party in an art gallery, perhaps during the day, with alcohol limited to beer and wine, experts say. Even the food has gotten healthier and the portions smaller.

"You want it to be fun. It's always a balance between managing your legal risks and also having a fun party," said Michael Johnson of Global Compliance, an ethics training and compliance firm.

Behind much of that conscience is the threat of legal liability, be it for employees driving home drunk or bosses harassing underlings, workplace experts say.

"There's some obvious things, like I don't think many clients are suggesting hanging mistletoe or suggesting, 'Oh, let's have a game of Twister,' kind of obvious danger zones," said Johnson.

Despite the pitfalls, almost 80 percent of companies throw holiday parties, a recent survey showed. The study, by executive search firm Amrop Battalia Winston, revealed that the number of companies having parties was down to its lowest level in 22 years to 79 percent, and two-thirds are restricted to employees only.

"Parties aren't going away," said Dale Winston of Battalia Winston, who noted they are less about entertaining clients and drumming up new business than rewarding employees.   Continued...

<p>Revellers dance at an office Christmas party in London December 13, 2007. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly</p>