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Holiday parties in these sensitive times

Dear Readers,

Last year I wrote about some Do’s and Don’ts for your office holiday parties; including some light-hearted and humorous messages about not dressing ‘sexy’ or drinking too much, not getting stoned or high, or mistakenly thinking you were partying with your friends. But it was written a bit tongue-in-cheek, knowing that there might be some degree of good fun, and perhaps ‘letting loose’ at the holiday party.

This year, for the holiday party season of 2017, my sentiments are more serious and more cautionary.

Our political and social climate has changed quite a bit. And our local community changed; the impact of the fires continues and will continue for years, especially powerful in these first number of months.

Some of the people at your office party might be feeling down; they may have lost their home, they may be experiencing depression or anxiety that is more acute around holiday time.  Some people are frightened and concerned about the financial aspects of the fire;  rebuilding or repairing a home. Right now many people don’t know if their insurance will cover the cost of rebuilding so they are in limbo.

And in the broader political and social climate, the pendulum is swinging in the direction of ‘outing’  sexual harassment on the job and becoming ultra sensitive to sexist comments and behaviors. I believe that is  good, but it is making everyone a bit awkward and sensitive, especially with dealing with potentially sexually charged issues. We are very conscious of comments and actions that could be perceived as inappropriate, and yet there is not a rule-book to follow.

But due to the heightened sensitivity and awareness of sexual harassment, I am proposing the following three recommendations for this year’s holiday parties. Better safe than sorry.

1.Dress on the conservative side and this advice is for everyone. Plan to wear normal business attire, perhaps a brighter holiday color. Dress as you normally would for work, maybe in slacks and a sweater. Be especially aware and sensitive that although you’re going to a party, it is still an extension of your work life and you will be with your colleagues.  Dress in a way that does not look like ‘let’s party’.

2. Do not drink or smoke or do any kind of mind altering anything! Be very aware of having your full wits about you. When you greet your work colleagues you can give warm verbal greetings but I’d be sensitive about hugs and kisses. Use a big smile instead of physical contact. Even if that’s a way you might greet some of your ‘friendly’ co-workers at other gatherings, I would be very aware of not having body contact. If someone leans in to give you a hug, you can pat their back, but do avoid frontal body contact.

3. Talk about easy topics and avoid more personal topics. Do not comment on the dress or appearance of others, except if, for instance, a woman is wearing a lovely holiday pin or hat or a man is wearing a humorous holiday tie. But try to avoid comments about appearance and talk more about general topics of vacation plans, the food at the party, etc. Do not bring up the fire and the impact of people losing their homes. You don’t know how those comments and topics could trigger sadness or anxiety in others.

This is NOT a normal holiday time for office parties. It is not a normal time for our country and it is not a normal time for Sonoma County, either.

This is a time to be on your best behavior, SOBER, SENSITIVE and KIND, with a certain amount of friendliness without touching!

Onward to a better 2018.

Happy Holidays,

Coach Joan

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