It’s Christmas party season again: hands down the workplace’s main social event of the year.
For businesses around the UK, the annual bash is a chance to show staff some appreciation for all their hard work.
And although the vast majority of parties go without a hitch, if there are problems any fallout can impact on you as an organisation.
As an employer you have a responsibility to protect your staff under health and safety laws and can be held liable for employee actions and behaviour.
Even if a Christmas party is outside the usual working environment and hours, it’s still classed as taking place ‘in the course of employment’.
That’s why it’s vital to set out the ground rules to help staff enjoy social events without leading to an HR hangover. This is especially in the MeToo era, where there’s now far more awareness of unacceptable attention and new rules of etiquette in the workplace (read our piece on being a post-MeToo employer here).
As part of the party invitation or just before the event, it’s a good idea to remind staff of the ground rules.
Send an email reminding them that the Christmas party may be a time to have fun but it’s still a work event - and so as an employer you have certain expectations of behaviour and conduct.
Let staff know that any inappropriate behaviour or misconduct - whether that’s towards a colleague, an invited guest or a member of the event venue staff - will not be accepted and will be treated as a disciplinary matter
Alcohol may blur professional boundaries, but misconduct is the same whether in or out of the office. This includes unlawful or inappropriate discrimination or harrassment, and violent or aggressive behaviour, serious verbal abuse or inappropriate language.
Add in a warning about the dangers of having too much alcohol to drink, and a reminder that using illegal drugs at a work event is strictly forbidden, too.
It’s good practice to have an up-to-date policy on Christmas parties or work social events, so refer staff to your policy if you have one.
Having a policy highlights employees exactly what’s considered acceptable at social events – as well as what they would face disciplinary action for.
It also shows that staff are treated the same way if there ever is an issue of inappropriate behaviour at an event.
Your organisation may also have a separate social media policy outlining employees’ use of social media at work or at work social events. Aside from the fact that sharing photos of colleagues at parties without their permission is a bad idea, inappropriate social media content can also have repercussions on employer brand.
If the party falls on a week night, do you expect everyone in at the usual time the next morning? Or will they be allowed in an hour or so later as long as they make up the time at some point?
Whatever your decision, make sure you communicate it - and what happens if employees don’t stick to the post-party rules.
We find through conversations with clients we recruit for at HR GO that increasingly employers cut staff some slack the day after an event (and even mention it during their recruitment process as a sign of their flexible company culture). This is as long as it’s logistically possible for their business, of course.
Of course, not everyone wants to go to the work Christmas party. They might have caring commitments that make it difficult or just prefer not to come along.
Make sure you invite all employees, and stress that attending isn’t compulsory.
And for employees who don’t drink alcohol or who are driving home, provide plenty of interesting non-alcoholic drinks to keep them entertained.
For team bonding and showing your appreciation to hard-working employees, there’s nothing like the work Christmas bash.
Just make sure you set out clear expectations beforehand so there aren’t any nasty surprises that long last after any hangovers have faded.