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How to avoid an office holiday party you want to forget


Navigating the difference between Santa and Scrooge office parties can feel like a real challenge. Though your office holiday party is the perfect opportunity to thank employees for their hard work, it is also potentially a recipe for disaster. Consequences can have long term implications even after the hangover goes away. As you plan this year’s office holiday party, here are steps managers can take to ensure a happy and positive celebration for all.

Extension of the workplace

While the office holiday party is fun, employees should never forget where they are. This is not Vegas, and there are no “free passes”. What happens at the party will follow them into the office the next day. This is still a corporate event and office etiquette should be maintained.

Employers should provide employees with a gentle reminder that the holiday party is an extension of the workplace. That inappropriate behavior, misconduct and unorthodox use of company property will be dealt with in the same way it would as if it took place during work hours. While you want to make sure everyone has fun, you are still responsible for the well-being of everyone at the event.

Limit alcohol

While everyone loves a free bar, this often encourages excessive drinking and the rowdy behaviour that goes along with it. Consider handing out drink tickets to minimise the amount of free alcohol. This will set an expectation when it comes to alcohol intake.

Avoid discrimination

Office holiday party celebrations should be non-discriminatory and accommodating for all. To that end, ensure the food is appropriate for all dietary and religious restrictions. Provide non-alcoholic drinks for those who are driving and those who prefer not to partake. Make sure your event doesn’t overlap with other religious holidays. Be mindful to provide an end time for the office holiday party so staff can make personal family care plans if needed. And remember to invite the people who might be on leave, i.e. parental or sickness/disability. Nobody likes to feel left out!

Forget the mistletoe

Despite what Christmas movies have taught us, the office holiday party is no time to get tender with coworkers. Protect against sexual harassment complaints by ensuring clear guidelines have been set out as to what constitutes inappropriate behaviour. Similarly, gently point out that inappropriate Secret Santa gifts will not be tolerated. Protect yourself from staff members thinking that the office holiday party is an appropriate time to go rogue!

Set social media parameters

It is good practise to remind employees about your social media policy before any event. Ensure they understand that any photos or videos that could cause embarrassment, bad publicity, or defamation will not be tolerated. Point out that everyone should respect their coworkers’ privacy, and make sure to get approval before posting their picture on social media.

Leave work talk to the office

Meet with all managers prior to the event and advise they are not to discuss performance or work-related issues. Coach them on gently moving a conversation away from such topics by simply saying “Lets discuss this when we are back at the office, tonight is about enjoying ourselves away from work.”

Deal with complaints

In the event that a complaint is made, or an incident occurs, it needs to be dealt with swiftly and fairly. Never dismiss anything as “nothing serious” or “just harmless banter”. Both can have serious repercussions for your employees and your company. Investigations should be conducted in a professional and thorough manner – exactly as they would for any other work-related issue.

Address transportation options

Legally there is an implied duty of care towards employees in their course of employment. Advise staff to plan their journey home, provide taxi numbers, or consider hired transportation to help minimise the risk. As the holiday party is an extension of the office, your duty of care is also extended.

Expectations for attendance the day after

If your event is happening on a week night, ensure employees know what is expected of them the following morning. You may insist that everyone be in as normal or give everyone an hour leeway. Anyone who is absent or late should be managed in line with your usual policies.

Enjoy your office holiday party

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – unless your holiday party turns into the Nightmare before Christmas. Avoid that happening by setting policy and guidelines before the event. These tips are not designed to take the fun out of the office holiday party. They are there to ensure your business and employees are protected.

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