The Christmas party is a great opportunity to thank staff for their efforts over the last year, relax a little and get to know people outside of work.
However, it’s always a concern when the alcohol starts to flow and your employees let their hair down. Romances, punch-ups and offensive jokes can be par for the course at the office party, and if it does all go wrong the effect on your business can be traumatic…
Research has shown that on average UK adults consume up to 40% more alcohol in December than over the rest of the year. Meanwhile up to 17 million working days are lost each year because of alcohol-related sickness, at an estimated cost of £1.7bn. Further to this, two-thirds of employers have reported dismissing someone following inappropriate behaviour at a work event. Despite (or perhaps even because of) this, the Christmas party is still a hotly-anticipated annual fixture in workplaces across the country.
It’s not just the company’s reputation that you need to look after on the night. You also have a duty of care for your employees’ wellbeing, their protection, and even, to a certain extent, their behaviour.
This is why it is important to establish clear guidelines before the event. You need to state how you expect your team to behave, and what will happen to them if they fail to act appropriately.
You would hope that your employees are not in the habit of making offensive jokes, but someone could still end up saying something inappropriate. You need to make it clear that you will not tolerate any comments of a racist, sexist, or ageist nature, or likewise any comments that are made at the expense of a person’s disability or religious beliefs. The same goes for any acts of violence or aggression.
If any such incidents do occur, do not attempt to deal with it at the event. Send the guilty employee home (ensuring that they can get there safely) and prepare to deal with it the next working day.
Misguided attempts at flirting can also cause an issue at the Christmas party, and we often hear of an employee making an unwelcome pass at another. Most people can forgive a colleague for an innocent drunken misdemeanour; however, should it go too far you may need to manage it after the event.
Drunken behaviour at a work event can be a grey area, as one company found out recently when it unfairly dismissed two employees. The Employment Tribunal agreed that the unlimited free bar that the employer had laid on at a conference had encouraged the employees to drink to excess, up to the point that they got into a fight. It’s worth keeping in mind when planning your own event.
Planning the Christmas Party
With all of the above in mind, we have put together a list of tips to help you manage an enjoyable and problem-free party:
- Send a company-wide email, post on the company intranet, put a notice up in the common area; do what you can to make sure that everyone knows how to behave.
- Remind your employees that the company’s policies on equal opportunities, drug and alcohol misuse and their general code of conduct will still apply.
- Make sure that you extend the invitation to all employees, including those that work remotely or from home, those that are on holiday, and those that are on maternity or sick leave.
- Make it clear whether partners are invited or if it is for your employees only.
- Encourage suitable professional party wear. You may need to state that this does not include anything too revealing.
- Make sure you cater to everyone’s dietary requirements.
- If you are paying for alcohol ensure that there is a reasonable limit.
- Make sure that under-age employees are not plied with alcohol.
- Remind your managers that they should intervene if anyone’s behaviour is going to cause upset or offence.
- If the party is in the office then take environmental health and safety into account. You should also notify the cleaners.
- Ensure that everyone can get home safely. This might mean reserving a local taxi service or arranging a minibus. Some companies arrange rooms at local hotels.
Finally, make sure that your employees know that any inappropriate behaviour at the work party will be dealt with the same way as if it had happened during work time. This includes non-attendance at work the next day due to over-indulgence.
The thing to remember is that if an employee is going to get drunk and do something stupid then they will do it anyway. It is your duty to manage any misconduct that occurs at the party, and laying out the rules beforehand will give you the best grounds on which to do this.