If there was any remnant of the Before Time I thought the Great Plague would manage to kill off, it was the whole concept of the office retirement / going away party. For eight months now, medical advice has been to severely curtail unnecessary social interaction (ex. graduation parties, weddings) and for the last few weeks the wisdom of traveling to join family members for Thanksgiving and Christmas has even been called into question.
It’s bad enough for people who need to show up for jobs that can’t be done remotely (and even worse for those whose job can be remote, but prevailing management culture prevents or discourages it). The goal there, in the absence of proper vaccination, should be in minimizing the number of people occupying the same workspace to the maximum extent possible. Pulling more people into that space for something as blatantly needless as a farewell luncheon feels like approaching the very height of an unnecessary activity.
People want normalcy. They want to do things that way they use to be done. I get it. Wanting to put more people that necessary for continued operational requirements in a room for the sake of a pot luck lunch, is, in my estimation, an absolute jackass move and you’ll never convince me otherwise… but by all means, I welcome an explanation of how it in any way “supports the mission” without unnecessarily increasing the overall risk to every person in the room and any person who might be in the room after the fact.
I’m sure it’s well intentioned, but a farewell luncheon in a confined space is just a bad judgement call from people who should know better. So yeah, I’ll be skipping the COVID luncheon, thanks.
The concept of a Non-Denominational Winter Holiday Office Party is a lesson in contradictions. First, fill the room full of people that you really only know passingly well. Add a DJ who can’t play any good music for fear of offending someone. Add a healthy dose of forced conviviality and Christmas joy. And finally open the bar in the middle of the afternoon. It amazes me year after year that office Christmas parties don’t result in drunken shouting matches between people who generally don’t want to be in the same room with one another when it can be avoided. It’s one of the biggest reasons I know mankind can do anything that we collectively set our minds to.
As office parties go, I have to admit that this year’s was pretty well laid on. I’m never going to be super happy in a large crowded room, but the food was plentiful, the adult beverages were cold, and no one tried dragging me onto the dance floor. Under the circumstances, that’s pretty much how I define success. Now if anyone needs me I’ll be hiding out in the basement trying to recover from an afternoon of actual socialization.
Sometimes I go to lunch with some of the guys from the office. When they talk about leadership problems, playing favorites, and how hard it is to get promoted unless you’re part of the clique, I mostly lean back in my chair, cross my arms, and smile. I won’t go so far as saying I agree with every decision made around here, I know from firsthand experience how much worse it can be for a working stiff somewhere near the middle of the pack. I’ll nod at the appropriate intervals in feigned agreement, but on the inside I know that unless they have served in the Court of the The Boss Who Shall Not Be Named, even the worst of their stories falls somewhere inside the range of “eh, that’s not so bad.”
I didn’t realize it until quite recently, but my time in the Office of the Damned has completely recalibrated my sense of good and bad work experiences. What a normal person would call good is beyond my scale completely now. Bad falls somewhere in the range of what I think as acceptable. The entire bottom half of the scale is occupied by things I’ve only seen the TBWSNBN do. In almost ten months, even the worst days have never been close to dropping onto the bottom half of the scale. Destroying my ability to see “normal” bad situations as being actually bad might be the only good thing TBWSNBN did for me.
Sure, it’s warped my sense of reality probably beyond any hope of repair, but that’s a relatively small price to pay for not being the least bit bothered by what sends those around me into a red-eyed fury.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.