Christmas may be sold as a magical time of family, excitement and a reaffirmation of the Christian values in life. In reality, it is a time of holidays, Bond movies and presents.
As we get older and leave the childish things behind, the presents we receive become less exciting and time off work becomes shorter and shorter. For many, Christmas can become a time of over-indulgence, overwork and even stress, leaving them far from refreshed to face the New Year.
The Christmas party is meant to be a thank you to staff for the effort they have put in over the previous year. It is the one time when partners and assistants can let their hair down together and bond as a team. But even the firm knees-up can become a minefield fraught with anxiety and stress.
One ambitious young solicitor at a leading City firm, who wishes to remain anonymous for reasons that will become apparent, tells two sorry tales about a Christmas party which was sadly lacking in goodwill and cheer to all men.
“In my first year with the firm, Christmas was a bit of a nightmare because of all the work everyone wanted to clear before the New Year. We had a few functions and seminars to go to as well, so it didn't actually seem like we were getting any time off at all.
“So much so, in fact, that one of my colleagues told me that any free time he got wouldn't be spent with anyone from his 'new family at work'. He simply couldn't face seeing any of the same faces he'd been living with constantly in the run up to Christmas. He decided to miss the Christmas party, which is meant to be the highlight of the year. I think his exact words were: 'I'd rather die than spend any more time with you lot.'”
She did attend the party, but now wishes she hadn't because she nearly did die – of embarrassment. “The party was quite good, especially watching all the partners trying out their sad moves on the dance floor. Some of them were getting a bit frisky as well as they got more and more tipsy, but the worst thing was my boyfriend, who I'd brought along as my date.
“He had had a job interview that day and was pretty stressed himself. By about 10pm he was fairly well gone on the free booze. He was covering it up pretty well, but just as the partner from my department and his wife came over to say hello, he started jumping about with the bottom of his trousers on fire. He had been standing too close to the fire and hadn't noticed his legs were getting a bit too warm. It was so embarrassing and I still haven't lived it down.”
There are various ways to avoid stress and keep your sanity over the holiday season. One of the most effective is the method employed by a fee earner at a City firm who, when faced with a new mountain of work on New Year's Eve at 5pm, simply said he had a plane to catch at 6pm and walked out of the office.
There are more scientific and less brazen ways to avoid stress. Olympic rower Jonny Searle, a litigation lawyer at Ashurst Morris Crisp, believes a daily training regime helps him to cope with the added rigours of Christmas at work.
He says: “I think it helps a lot. I notice that if I don't exercise in the evening, even if I don't cycle home, I'm still wound up at home. That's one of the reasons I like to work out after work, because it leaves me nice and relaxed.
“We had a lecture last year which explained that exercising in the evening helps soak up all the hormones and biochemicals which keep you buzzing at work but aren't really needed at home.”
Georgina Olapado, a secretary at Stephenson Harwood, is someone else who manages to keep a job and athletic career going at the same time. She's also a mother of two small children. She was part of the UK 4×400 metres squad at last summer's Olympics and competes as an individual as well.
“A typical day is getting up at 6am, getting the kids ready, getting to work by 9am, leaving at 5pm, dropping the children off with mum and then training until 9pm,” says Olapado. She also trains on Christmas day. This usually takes the form of a four-mile run which “helps clear the mind because I love running”.
So, next time you feel the stress of Christmas at work, start your new year's resolutions early with a session at the gym. But if you really can't make it, at least spare a thought for these working athletes as you order another festive round at the bar.