Christmas party hangover
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How to avoid the Christmas party HR hangover

4 Dec 2017

’Tis the season to be jolly, but HR professionals need to be on guard at the office Christmas party. The HR Department’s David Bell has some advice.

As it’s already December, it’s time to start thinking about The C Word, if you haven’t already. Slowly but surely, our news feeds are becoming filled with Christmas-related images, proving that the countdown is well and truly on.

Aside from that long list of presents you have to buy for loved ones and deciding which tin of sweets you will opt for this year, there is something else to think about: the Christmas office party.

Getting the workforce together for some festivities is a great way to celebrate and thank your employees for their hard work with an evening filled with people swapping Santa presents and tactfully avoiding (or aiming for) the mistletoe.

This event allows colleagues to bond and build working relationships in a highly positive way, the atmosphere is jolly, and people are ready to let off some steam after a year of hard work.

However, this particular staff party is one of the riskier events for any employer, where a year’s worth of work-related frustrations mixed with alcohol can result in a recipe more disastrous than your Christmas turkey.

Below are some top tips to ensure the party goes to plan.

Take actions to make sure no inappropriate behaviour occurs

In many cases, when the drink is in, the wit is well and truly out. There have been many stories told around the world of an employee getting a bit too tipsy and confessing their undying love for a colleague.

While such antics might not be intended to hurt or offend, it can also be an uncomfortable situation for some, and even runs the risk of turning into a sexual harassment case. In the wake of the appalling Harvey Weinstein scandal, which opened the gate for a host of other allegations, managers and business owners must be particularly attentive to the issue.

According to a recent survey from the BBC of more than 700 office workers, around a quarter said they looked forward to office Christmas parties, while four out of 10 were hesitant, and a fifth said they hated them.

One of the main reasons for this is the anxiety of becoming too drunk and acting in an inappropriate or embarrassing way.

Some individuals act so out of order at their Christmas work party that they are fired. A recent study from Forbes revealed that 14pc of respondents admitted they know someone who has been fired from a job because of their behaviour. One example from the study revealed that one senior employee at an advertising agency was verbally inappropriate with practically every female worker, so much so that his employment was terminated the next day.

Barbara Pachter, an etiquette expert and the author of The Essentials of Business Etiquette, said: “People have said and done all sorts of inappropriate things that have impacted their career by not following simple etiquette rules. People need to remember that although the holiday party is a time to celebrate, this activity is still a business event, and how you behave matters.”

To avoid having to fire or even arrest employees, send an email to staff prior to the party informing them of the event details while also highlighting that, as it is still a work-related event, employees must act professionally and with decorum. Setting the standard and ensuring staff know what is expected of them will help the party go off without a hitch.

Don’t encourage binge drinking

To avoid behavioural issues, don’t encourage mass consumption of alcohol intake and don’t offer employees a free bar.

This will decrease the chances of accidents, fights or issues that usually happen as a result of drinking. If needed, be prepared to tell individuals to stop drinking if they start to appear too drunk or rowdy.

Ensure employees use social media in a positive way

Social media is a powerful tool, used for many different aspects of both personal and business life. However, it is important to remember that when your employees are posting selfies and other various photos at the office party, they are still representing your company, so brand awareness is vital.

It could be a good idea to have one person act as a photographer for the night and only take appropriate photos. The next working day, everyone can choose certain photos they prefer and you could even choose a couple for company social media.

It is highly recommended that you create a general social media policy in your workplace. Informing staff of this new disciplinary policy will make them aware of the rules and hopefully avoid any possible problems.

Be considerate to all employees

Be sensitive to the fact that some employees may not celebrate the Christmas holiday. There are some religions that don’t consume alcohol, so it’s very important to make sure there are options to cater to them. This will show your awareness and consideration of your employees, making them feel valued.

Don’t make any promises that you can’t keep and avoid discussions about salary, promotions etc at the party. The reason for this is that words of encouragement are sometimes misinterpreted and may cause issues in the workplace.

For most, unless the party is on a Friday night, the working week will continue the next day as normal. Despite guidance on what is considered acceptable and what is not, unfortunate events may occur or certain things may be said. In such situations, it’s important that any information given to you by employees stay anonymous, unless said otherwise.

Stay calm and sort out any problems with a certain level of discretion and, if need be, remind your workers of the values and rules of the company to make sure that everything goes more accordingly next year.

All in all, make sure to still enjoy the office party – it’s a time to celebrate and be merry. ’Tis the season to be jolly, after all!

By David Bell

David Bell is the managing director at The HR Department

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