Challenger, Gray & Christmas says that 70 percent of companies will hold holiday parties this year, and only 30 percent will hold them on company premises. This sounds great — how generous of these companies to throw a party! How great for morale! There’s only one problem — no one wants to go. I did a poll and 22 percent of people say they won’t go, and another 59 percent are trying to find a good excuse to not go, though they’ll probably have to go because even when companies say their parties are optional, it turns out that not going means you “aren’t a team player” and get passed over for promotion.

And why don’t people want to go to their company party? Because they suck. Oh, you say, “but our parties never suck. And employees should just be grateful we’re throwing a party at all.” Well, I for one will not be grateful for parties that suck. I’d rather there’d been no party at all. So I’ve spelled out a few rules to avoid throwing a party no one wants to go to:

1. Don’t let us get drunk until you’ve fed us.

If you start the party with an open bar more than three 3 hours after our last meal, then the results are predictable: People will get drunk too fast, and only bad things will happen.

One year the holiday party started at 3 p.m. By 5 p.m. people were drunk. Painfully so. By the time the meal was served, several people were already in a bad place, and some people were already thinking about leaving “before it got worse.” This could’ve all been solved by having the meal first. Or by doing it right after lunch.

Many common complaints about holiday parties have to do with excessive drinking. One person wrote in to say:

I can’t bear to watch the sales guy’s “sexy dance” again.

This sounds familiar. Too familiar. The sales guy probably wouldn’t have had the courage to do his sexy dance until he had two shots of tequila with the department head at 3:30 p.m. Don’t let employees drink and sexy dance.

2. If you want to review the company’s results, keep it short.

Very short. Even if it’s during the day and still on company time, you’ve still referred to it as a “party,” and parties may have pie but they don’t have pie charts.

Furthermore, if the company results are bad and the result is no or delayed raises, no 401K contributions,  no or smaller bonuses, then save it. Tell us that after the 1st of the year. It’s not a party if you start by delivering bad news about paychecks.

3. If you give away crap with the company logo on it, remember that we have to carry it home. 

Some heavy or unwieldy piece of junk is not coming home on the subway with me. And if the “gift” is not useful to me, if the company logo is too prominent, or if I can’t regift it, then I will resent it. Like I would if you gave me a framed picture of the CEO. That’s like giving me a picture of Stalin and expecting me to hang it in my cubicle.

If you can’t do better than that, you’d be better off giving nothing at all, because we’d rather just have the $25 you spent on it. If you can’t restrain yourself, at least remember how much we hate most of this crap and choose accordingly.

Incidentally, if you’re tired of getting the same company crap every year, you might want to do what several of us did in 2003:

Our department had a holiday grab-bag. Half the department hated it, the other half insisted “it would be great if you just give it a chance.” Previous year gifts were mostly crap, and shopping for coworkers? No, I don’t want to spend any more time thinking about coworkers, thank you. So that year several of us took the previous year’s company gift — a paper weight/clock with an oversized logo — and wrapped it and put it in the gift bag. We’ve never had mandatory gift-giving in the department since!

4. If the party is mandatory, it should not be after hours. Or, even worse, on weekends.

Not everyone wants to spend even more time with their coworkers. Over half of the poll respondents said “I spend 50 hours a week at my job — I’m not giving up a Saturday night,  too.” You don’t want to require the parents have to find (and pay) babysitters. And almost everyone has another party they’d rather go to at the same time as yours, anyway.

5. The party should be convenient.

If the location is 50 miles away, it’s a burden. Find somewhere closer. If employees take trains and buses to work, make sure the location is convenient to public transportation. If your party is not attended by the poorer, the parents or the non-car owners, you are creating resentment where you’d hoped to build camaraderie and morale.

I’m reminded of the time they threw the company party at a fancy banquet hall in Poughkeepsie, 10 miles from the nearest commuter train. Our office is in NYC, so this was inaccessible to the city residents, and even less convenient for the people who lived in Jersey and Long Island. But it was near the CEO’s house, so he thought he was being really generous. The party was attended by fewer than 10 percent of employees. I hear it was at a really nice place, but then, I wouldn’t know.

6. Don’t make us sit by department.

In fact please make sure to break us up somehow. You don’t need to agonize over the seating chart like it’s the Royal Wedding — you could have a random drawing on the way in. I’d rather chew off my left arm than have to sit next to my boss for dinner — he’ll monopolize the conversation, chew with his mouth open, criticize others … also he can’t sit for more than five minutes without adjusting himself. Let some other department benefit from his wisdom for the evening.

7. The bosses and managers must pay for everything.

Anything less is unacceptable. Do not make employees contribute. Compelling employees to pay so they can spend unpaid time with you is unconscionable.

If there’s a cash bar, this is doubly true. If people go to a second location which is not part of the official party, this rule still remains in effect. In fact, any boss who doesn’t automatically buy drinks or food for their subordinates at any company function, sanctioned or unsanctioned, expense account-eligible or not, is a small, petty person who should be set adrift in shark-infested waters. The only exception is lunch or drinks, if the subordinate requests the meeting, but even then they should at least offer to pay.

8. Don’t be cheap.

You don’t need to throw a party at The Plaza Hotel. But if the party looks and feels cheap, you won’t raise morale, you’ll lower it.

A few years ago the CEO made a big deal of announcing that even though there wouldn’t be a company party, he was still going to do something to show his appreciation for all our hard work all year. He said “don’t bring lunch on Friday, it will be on me.” When Friday came, he had McDonalds brought in for everyone. McDonalds. Nothing against McDonalds, but the message the CEO sent us all was this: “Your effort was worth less than five dollars to me.”

Final thought

Remember, you don’t have to have a company party. You don’t have to give employees a gift. So if you do, make sure it’s not lame, inconvenient, a drag or insulting.

[NOTE: I’m sure there are more reasons these parties suck, so let me hear yours in the comments.]