The 10 Worst Office Holiday Party Disasters

Whether it’s drunken coworkers, humiliating party games, or simply the indignity of forced merriment, office holiday parties have a way of living in infamy.

I recently asked readers to tell me about their worst office holiday parties. Here are the 10 worst events you reported.

1. You’re invited … to work at the party

“I was working in a sandwich shop with only six employees. The owner invited all of us to a formal holiday party at his house. I didn’t realize until I showed up – in my only fancy party dress – that I was expected to work the event, serving all the owner’s friends and family!”

2. Temps need not attend

“At my now-years-ago temp job, around mid-December our boss scheduled a holiday lunch at a nice local restaurant. Since it was written on the master calendar and discussed several times in front of us, the other temps and I assumed everyone was invited.

Come the day of the lunch, all of a sudden the regular staff stopped talking to the temps, avoided eye contact and kept whispering amongst themselves. Turns out the temps were NOT invited to their lunch, but no one had the guts to tell us. At lunchtime, the regular staff literally snuck out of the office!

Since we hadn’t received further instructions when they left, the temps went out to lunch on our own so we wouldn’t be there when they got back. Unfortunately, that meant when we got back from lunch we temps walked in on the boss handing out presents to the regular staff; the temps got nothing. Needless to say, the rest of the day was very uncomfortable for everyone.”

3. Frat house run amok

“The CEO threw an evening holiday party at his house, and gave me a half day off to shop for food and drinks, set everything up, and decorate. I did my best but since I was a billing coordinator, not a party planner, it looked a little… askew.

The actual party was like a frat house run amok. The A/P director drank too much and threw up shrimp cocktail on the white shag carpet. The plant manager got into a screaming fight with his wife in the driveway. The chemist was found making out with the loading dock supervisor, who was about 30 years her senior and more importantly not her husband. And I accidentally walked in on the sales director peeing in the unlocked hallway bathroom (which I thought was the coat closet; we were both surprised). The president himself got completely hammered and went around telling people totally inappropriate stories, gave me a giant bear hug that lasted a little too long, and broke the sliding door to his patio.”

4. Forced karaoke – without music

“It was an otherwise ordinary party – dinner and dancing at a local hotel ballroom. But between the dinner and dancing they had karaoke. Not volunteer karaoke, though, and this was before karaoke machines were available. Several small groups of people were coerced into going up and singing, handed the words to the songs printed on paper and made to sing a capella in front of the entire room. It was so painful to watch their embarrassment…. no, I’d go so far as to say humiliation. I wasn’t one of those people, so I have no bitterness, but you have to really think twice about company management that will do that to people. It was downright ugly.”

5. Vacation slides and a bear

“The entertainment consisted of the head of the company showing us his vacation slides to Yosemite at winter time, and then he sang a song about a bear. The slides were beautiful, but just reinforced the difference between the haves and have nots. And it got old after the second carousel.”

6. The worst ice-breaker in the world

“I work at a nonprofit agency of the blind, and a large percentage of our staff is blind. At the last holiday party at my office the upper management hired a DJ and told him to come up with some ice breaker games. The only ice-breaker this DJ could come up with was a game where the players had to keep toilet paper rolls in between their legs, and another player had to use a toilet plunger to try to spear the rolls from between the other persons legs.

What this amounted to was that we had a bunch of blind people thrusting a wooden plunger at each others’ crotches. It did not end well.”

7. Mysterious gift

“In addition to the company-wide party every year, my office has a pizza lunch and white elephant gift swap. It’s totally optional, and you don’t have to bring a gift to still enjoy the pizza. Usually it’s stipulated that the gifts should be around $10 and be something you’d like to receive yourself. Last year, most of the gifts had been opened when one of my co-workers picked up a smallish box and shook it. It rattled like crazy, and when he opened it there were crushed peanut shells inside. No one knew who it was from, and it set a really uncomfortable tone for the rest of the afternoon. To this day, no one has claimed it.”

8. Merry Christmas, here’s a pay cut

“My former boss got drunk, sat me down at the bar and said that he was giving me a raise to [less money than he was currently paying me]. Whoops!”

9. True confessions

“There was a drawing for door prizes, but in order to get your prize, you had to answer a silly question, like “what did you wear to prom?” or “what was your childhood pet’s name?” And then someone got, “What is the worst thing you have ever done?” A hush fell over the room, and the person turned bright red, muttered something unintelligible, grabbed their $5 Starbucks gift card, and walked away.”

10. A dangerous holiday journey

“A young coworker overindulged in alcohol and somehow managed to miss that the company was offering a car service to help folks get home safely. He proceeded to wander drunkenly through the city trying to make it home, but ended up running into some bad sorts trying to accost him. In trying to escape, he got completely banged up – cuts, bruises, blood, and filthy, torn clothing. At this point, he was so disoriented that he wasn’t not sure how to get home, so he decided to lay down in back of pickup truck parked on the street (this was December, so it was probably 40 degrees outside). An hour or two later, the truck owner spotted him and chased him off. He forgot his bag, which had his MetroCard, so he decided to go back to work and sleep it off under his desk.

Meanwhile, the truck owner sees the nice bag left behind and thinks it was stolen, so he calls the cops, who then go to the address…where the young coworker lives with a now panic-stricken mother. The panic doesn’t abate when no one at work has seen him for hours…until he stumbles out from his desk around 11 a.m.”

Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • Vick

    First, we had to draw a co-worker from the hat. Then, we had to find a gift that begins with their initials. Third, we had to come up with a poem, story, song, etc. about that person. Lastly, we had to perform this in front of the entire department before we gave the gift to the coworker. This was absolute HELL. Needless to say, I was so glad when a new boss came along, and changed our holiday parties to a free trip to the local bowling alley with lots of free food and booze!!

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  • Nora Roseberry

    This year once again where I work, the party planners have purchased $1,000 worth of prizes that may consist of stuff the winners may not want or need. Losers will go home empty handed. And get home late, because drawings are held at various times and people have to be present to win. I tried once to stop it, but the party planners are gamblers who get a thrill out of these shenanigans. I say give us each $25 and send us home after the meal. At least that way it’s fair.

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  • nobodyssister

    “I did my best but since I was a billing coordinator, not a party planner, it looked a little… askew.”

    I mentally read that as “Dammit Jim, I’m a billing coordinator, not a party planner!”

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  • Sally Taylor

    My new CEO wanted me to get something unique and special to present to the employees for all their hard work and dedication. One of my colleagues told me about Unique Custom Products in Colorado. I called and they had a host of one of a kind customizable corporate gifts. I chose the wooden coaster set and had it engraved with the names each employee with a ‘Thank You’ and the company logo. The artwork looks great, everyone was really impressed! I would easily recommend them to anyone. They’re awesome! http://www.customwoodencoaster.com

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