Do Holiday Work Parties Overwhelm You?

It’s that time of year again. The holiday season. Holidays may mean different things to you and your friends – Christmas, Chanukkah, Kwanza, New Years – but the one thing you’ll likely have in common is the office holiday party. It’s very common, almost traditional now, for employers and companies to have a year-end event or celebration for their co-workers and staff.

Why Celebrations are Important 

There are a lot of benefits that come from hosting and attending these parties. From an employee perspective, it is a chance to converse and socialize with your co-workers and other employees. In an age where many Canadians change careers several times during their lifetimes, maintaining business connections and ties with others will benefit you when transitioning into another career later on. Socializing in a non-work environment can also help you enhance co-worker relationships and productivity during working hours. It could even let you build non-work relationships (i.e. new friends!). From a recovery perspective, building new social connections not tied to addiction is integral to maintaining meaningful recovery.

For an employer, it’s almost necessary to have events devoted to staff at least once a year. For many people, being thanked and recognized by employers for their hard work is often more important than money. Without these parties, staff begins to unravel. Resentment starts to build when employees see no gratitude. They, then, start reporting increasing job dissatisfaction. Finally, the workplace and its productivity are slowly sabotaged as employees “pay back” their bosses with the same treatment.

So these parties are clearly essential to the workplace. Just as common as having these parties is the central presence of alcohol at them. While it may break down social tensions and reduce the need for entertainment, it can have problematic results at even the most organized events. There are numerous reports of increased impaired driving, sexual harassment, and physical altercations during the December holiday season. When events or attendees put more focus on alcohol than the party, it loses sight of staff appreciation, group/team building, reiteration of goals, achieved goals, and other focuses.

 The Effect of Office Parties

Caron Treatment Centre in Pennsylvania conducted a survey in November on the impact holiday office parties had on employees the next day. Sixty-four percent of participants reported calling in sick or knowing someone who has. Some other statistics include:

  • 61% arrived late to or left early from work
  • 54% mentally “checked out” while working
  • 46% had difficulty completing tasks
  • 43% put work tasks off until next day
  • 27% took an extra long lunch break

 Ways to Have Clean & Fun Gatherings

If you are an employer or employee who identifies with these party outcomes and would like them to change, here are some ideas. Move the emphasis from drinking to an activity. Knowing your employees’ interests and demographic can help you generate ideas. If many of your employees are sports enthusiasts, try some things like mountain sports (skiing and snowshoeing). If everyone has been talking about a movie they all want to see, pay for a staff night out to the movies. Other activities could include: a spa day, bowling, or at-home competitions like Iron Chef for staff (with prizes).

Like Shawn Conner’s article in the Vancouver Sun, there are ways to survive the office holiday party. For people in recovery or those who prefer not to drink, drink tonic or water with lemon and ice (it looks like a gin & tonic) if you believe you’ll be harassed for not drinking. Another convincing excuse is claiming you’re a designated driver (which you might end up being!).

It may be a big decision for persons in recovery to attend gatherings where there’s opportunity to build deeper relationships with co-workers at the risk of being exposed to high alcohol and substance use. If you choose to attend but still hold concerns, try and identify with co-workers beforehand whom you know won’t be drinking. Spending most of your time at the party with this group may reduce your anxieties of other people’s drinking.

If substance and alcohol use goes beyond just staff and holiday parties, there are some resources on approaching employee substance abuse in the workplace. See Sunshine Coast Health Center’s Workplace Substance Abuse page for information on addiction and the workplace.


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