In #MeToo era, office party etiquette bans 'dirty dancing' and 'sleepovers'

Adam Gabbatt

There’s been a decline in festivities that hasn’t been seen since the Great Recession, with #MeToo and millennials being blamed

The drop in workplace holiday parties can be attributed to concerns about inappropriate behavior.
The drop in workplace holiday parties can be attributed to concerns about inappropriate behavior. Photograph: Getty Images

The number of US companies planning to hold holiday parties this year is at the lowest number since the throes of the Great Recession. But this time the decline in festivities is for a different reason: #MeToo.

Just 65% of companies plan to hold a seasonal party in 2018, according to HR company Challenger, Gray and Christmas. That’s the lowest number since 2009, when 62% of companies threw parties.

The specter of #MeToo and sexual misconduct has prompted a swathe of advice from HR experts. Among the tips for companies: banning “dirty dancing” from events, and encouraging staff not to “kiss anyone”.

But despite the apparent decline, parties need not be a thing of the past if staff are issued reminders of responsibilities, according to Nancy Yaffe, an attorney at legal firm Fox Rothschild.

For a successful, incident free party, it should be reiterated that management are “on duty”, she wrote in guidance published on the company’s website.

Yaffe’s list of reminders for management include: “No touching (preferably even when dancing)”, and encouraging managers to “not ‘after-party’ with staff”.

As for regular staff members, there should be “no sleepovers after the party”, according to Yaffe, and “no dirty dancing”. She also encourages people to follow her “one wine, one water” rule, which Yaffe says will reduce inebriation.

Arin Reeves, managing director of Nextions, a workplace consultancy firm, said holiday parties have been in decline for some time.

In part, that is due to the increased number of people working remotely, Reeves said, but a generation gap is also at play.

“Millennials are not interested in socializing in a more formal, invited context. They like informal gatherings more. They’re also not that fond of socializing with baby boomers, more senior people,” she said.

The decline in holiday parties began in 2008 when companies wanted to save money as the recession hit, Reeves said.

“That was when the reduction started. And then companies started saying do we want to re-implement this, and that’s when they were getting feedback from people saying: ‘Well, we don’t want it anyway.’”

Challenger, Gray and Christmas surveyed 150 human resources representatives across the US for its report. Of the companies holding parties this year, 58% said they have addressed #MeToo-related issues in advance.

“The fact that nearly 60% of companies that are having parties have real concerns about inappropriate behavior shows that HR departments nationwide are responding to this particular issue,” said Andrew Challenger, the company’s vice president.