PITTSBURGH – Kristina Korade had been to traditional holiday office parties on previous jobs. “Very conservative and quiet,” she recalled.
Seven years ago, she took a job at the Smith Brothers Agency, a Pittsburgh-area advertising agency. Once she figured out exactly what her co-workers had planned for the company’s holiday gathering, she thought: “Oh, wow, this is awesome.”
That was the year they introduced the ugly sweater contest.
She loves her job as a producer working with various teams to make sure everything is being executed on time and on budget. But this was her moment to tap her creative side. And she crushed it by picking up a red knit sweater at a thrift store and decorating it with giant fake poinsettias, ribbons and “sparkly things.”
The office holiday party has a long, storied history in the American workplace. It can be risky — offering food and alcohol to people who have spent long hours toiling next to each other and developing ties as complicated as those in any family.
This time of year, job counselors and etiquette experts issue reminders not to imbibe too much.
Banning office parties might seem like a smart move, but the staffing firm OfficeTeam, of Menlo Park, Calif., noted in its 2014 survey that 52 percent of workers described such gatherings as their favorite work-related holiday celebration.
The data, collected in more than 400 telephone interviews with office workers, didn’t find as much support for other options: Just 10 percent liked informal gift exchanges.
If Zakk Weston had been surveyed, he might have been part of the 21 percent who said the worst thing about office holiday parties is boring activities.
“I didn’t think much of the tradition until I came to Smith Brothers,” said the guy who gives his title as “creative technologist” but who may be better known as the guy who recruits new employees for the annual holiday karaoke contest.
An eight-year employee of the agency, he, too, was a winner in his first competition, covering The Kinks’ “Father Christmas.”
He was such a natural — and has such a lack of fear of getting up in front of his colleagues and potentially embarrassing himself — that he now emcees the event.
Both Weston and Korade claimed their employer’s holiday traditions build camaraderie — and not just the Stockholm syndrome kind.
“I think it becomes kind of a shared experience,” said Weston, who believes co-workers see sides of each other that aren’t evident when going over budgets or developing marketing campaigns.