Christmas is just around the corner. City centres are a bustle of busy shoppers on the lookout for the perfect present, the seasonal markets are in full swing and companies around the country are dusting off the obligatory tawdry decorations to hang sparsely around the office. It’s the time of festive cheer and for many employees this is symbolised by the advent of the office Christmas party – a time to let their hair down, forget office politics for a few hours and make merry.
For employers, however, the annual Christmas party can present an unnecessary headache. They are all too aware that their company is likely to have the same legal responsibility for what happens during the event as it does during working hours, and what with the alcohol flowing and tongues loosened, the Christmas party is like a tinderbox waiting for a spark. Harassment is an all too common feature of the office party, and likely to increase when colleagues are drinking. Whether it is lewd or bawdry remarks, unwanted advances or outbursts of long-held resentments, it is never a pleasant experience and the aftermath can be particularly sobering for both employee and employer.
For employers anxious about the upcoming office party, here are a few brief solutions to ensuring a happy and positive event.
- Get employee buy-in prior to the event. Consult with them over venue and issues such as theme and dress code. You don’t necessarily have to hand-over responsibility – and budget! – for the event, but you may find that giving them a voice increases a shared sense of participation and accountability, which will keep potential trouble makers in check.
- Set a budget for drinks and food. This will set an expectation when it comes to alcohol intake. Free bars are loved by employees but it can encourage excessive drinking and behaviour.
- Make employees aware of non-acceptable behaviour and the repercussions for anyone who breaches company standards and accepted behaviour. Of course, you want your staff to have fun and not stifle their freedom, so you may want to consider how you deliver your expectations. Don’t appear too puritan about the whole thing – remember the party is meant as a reward for the year’s work. Stay calm and relaxed and you are more likely to get staff buy-in.
- Think about health and safety at the event. This won’t be a concern if your party is hosted by an events company, but for those who are taking responsibility for the location, you might want to consider carrying out a risk assessment prior to the event. This will limit the risks of accidents during the event and reduce the liability against any claims should the worse happen.
- Cater for everyone who will be attending the party to avoid discrimination. Ensure there is food that is appropriate for employees’ religious and cultural needs, including non-alcoholic drinks.