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Opinion | Boris Johnson Should Have Skipped the Office Party

“Aha!” you might say. “But I am a fun boss, a cool boss, the C.E.O. of having a good time.” And to you I say: That is so much worse.

Bosses should not force employees to laugh at their jokes or make them watch, captive, as they flail their limbs to a beat. I’ve been the employee who demands the boss “Stay! Drink! Dance!” and I am now here to say: Do not listen to that employee. (I’m lucky my calls went unheeded: Ten seconds of karaoke, and a rubber stamp would’ve come down on my file, screaming, “DO NOT PROMOTE.”)

The worst office parties become competitions to gain the boss’s favor, which should never be determined by how sincere a compliment sounds at a definitely-not-mandatory social event.

And when pints and promotions go hand in hand, inequality festers. Booze-centric partying excludes those who don’t drink for religious, health or any other reasons. A 2016 report by Demos, a British think tank, found that 43 percent of young workers felt teetotalism was a barrier to integrating into the workplace. Working parents who can’t spend hours at the pub or bar also risk exclusion.

Office partying has been linked to gender-based harassment. A 2019 survey by researchers at Penn State and Ohio State University found that in the workplace, for both men and women, “fun activities in general are associated with higher levels of unwanted sexual attention” and that “mandatory attendance and holding the activities on nights and weekends” increased the likelihood of “unwanted sexual attention.” When a colleague crosses a line, that’s one thing, but it’s far harder to speak up when it’s the boss.

That’s not to say office parties should be scrapped — they’re a great way for colleagues to bond and for employers to show appreciation. But at their most memorable, they typically don’t involve what one might describe as professional behavior. The most talked-about office parties involve someone breaking a table, someone throwing up in a corner of the office or someone sleeping in said office until the next day. But this sort of fun is fun only when a boss neither witnesses nor encourages it.

So, bosses of the world, please learn from Mr. Johnson’s blunders. Office parties are not for you. They are for you to fund, certainly, but after a few sips of warm champagne, you should leave your employees and let them carry on.

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