Forced Fun at The Office Christmas Party…


Christmas is a time for fun and celebration right?! Well, it all rather depends on your definition of “fun”. I recently joined Emma Barnett and Bea Appleby on Bea in my Barnett slot on BBC Five Live. We talked about Bea feeling obliged to take time away from her family to have “forced fun” with colleagues at Christmas. She recalled a scene from the day before. A group of visibly bored people at an office lunch party, looking like they would rather be anywhere else. Clearly not fun. However, as I hope I politely pointed out – the person who had organised that dull looking “do” had obviously done it with the best of intentions. It was unlikely they deliberately made choices to force people into not having fun!

So, that got me thinking.
If you are a reluctant guest, given you probably, (albeit reluctantly) are going, how can you help your reluctant brain to find a scrap of enjoyment? And if you are the party organiser, what can you do to help please most of the people, most of the time.

For Reluctant Guests

Listen to your self-talk

Be aware that as soon as you tell yourself “This is going to be rubbish”, your brain will look for evidence that this is true. If you want the science, look up “cognitive dissonance”. Our brains like what they know to be true already. If you think something is true, you will look for evidence you are right and ignore evidence to the contrary. So try telling yourself, “I’ll go with an open mind and find something small to enjoy”. This at least gives your brain the option to have a good time!

Beware being the “Bored Boss”

There are 2 things you need to know…1) There is a trick that our brain plays on us called Negativity Bias. It means that we are likely to pay more attention to criticism than we are to praise. 2) There is something called the Authority Index. It means people will pay more attention to what you do or say if you are the person in charge or with the most influence. Combine the two and if you are a boss looking bored, the chances are that your attitude will be infectious. This could mean that even people who are really looking forward to the event or were throughly enjoying themselves might align themselves with you and start to hate it. You could literally be a killjoy without knowing it.

For Party Organisers

Consult on what people hate

Ask around and find out what people really don’t want to do. It’s strange but our human brains are quite quick at coming up with lists of things we don’t like (What habits would you hate in a partner?) Whereas ask us what we do want (What does your ideal partner look like?) we can draw a bit of a blank. The question seems almost too big to answer. So chances are, if you say to people “What should we do for our team get-together?” People might say “Dunno”. Whereas if you ask, “What should we definitely avoid when we are thinking about getting together as a team?” People might give you a quick checklist. We can’t please all of the people all of the time. But the right question can get you closer.

Avoid delegating the job of party-organiser to the party-animal

Curious one. But people with a strong sense of fun can sometimes miss that one person’s definition of fun can be another person’s idea of a nightmare. So don’t always choose the gregarious, party going person to create your party. Choose someone that understands that people’s ideas of “fun” are inherently different.

Positively allow people to adapt

Try to choose an activity or an event where people can play along in their own way. Don’t create an event that will only appeal to the strongly outgoing – unless you have a whole team made up of the strongly outgoing! Instead create something where there is a role for the person who loves to observe the action, without getting embroiled in it too.

Be considerate about diversity

Most organisations have genuinely tried to promote diversity and provide so many more opportunities for flexible working. It means our work-places are so much more diverse than they use to be, so don’t chuck that away by not considering your social events! Be considerate when you are thinking about the provision of alcohol and things like location or start and finish times. Try to think about whether you can arrange the event for during the working day when people have already made personal arrangements to be with you anyway. Some people love an excuse for a late night and a belly full of beer. You don’t want the single parent, new to the town with no babysitting network who has no choice but to arrive sober and on time for a school pick up at 4pm to feel like more of an outsider than they probably already do…

It might be too late for this year. But maybe your next team event might go with a bang! If you need some help, get in touch with us at We have loads of ideas about how to make team events and learning new skills fun – for everyone.