Christmas EtiquetteIt’s the time of year when we all like to relax and celebrate …. but for employers, Christmas party season comes with the responsibility of navigating potential HR challenges.

In any situation where people are socialising out of the normal work environment, and possibly under the influence of alcohol, there is a risk that things can go wrong.

Rest assured, with some careful planning and setting expectations for managers and team members alike, you can create a memorable and trouble free event without dampening festive spirits.

Here are five rules worth considering to reduce the risk of any people management problems:

1. Above all, remember – it’s still a work event

Whether your celebration is held at the workplace or elsewhere, it is still a work-related event and as an employer you are responsible for what happens there. If any misconduct takes place at the event, then in the eyes of law it will have taken place during the course of employment.

Leaders should take care to oversee the event, and if you do become aware of inappropriate behaviour, address it swiftly. If a complaint is raised, either at the time or afterwards, you would be under the same obligation to investigate and, if appropriate, take disciplinary action as you would be if it happened during the normal working day.

2. Remind partygoers of the ground rules

With the above in mind, make sure employees are aware of the standards of behaviour expected of them. You don’t have to lay down the law, but perhaps include in any pre-event communication a reminder to your people that they must always behave responsibly and respectfully.

Your managers retain a responsibility for the people in their team, and should be reminded of this ahead of the event.

If alcohol is served, it would be wise to encourage moderation, and remind employees to stay aware of their own limits. Wherever possible arrange transportation options for afterwards, and always make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks provided. You may also feel it is reasonable to ask managers to moderate their own alcohol intake so they can lead by example and so they are clear-headed enough to deal with a difficult situation if it does arise.

3. Think carefully about the type of celebration you have

You’ve probably already booked your Christmas party for 2023, but when planning any future work events, it’s worth considering alternatives to the traditional boozy dinner and drinks ‘do’.

Not everyone wants to drink alcohol, and not everyone will enjoy a loud or crowded event. It’s important that you consider people’s preferences and provide opportunities for inclusive celebrations that everyone feels comfortable at. Also, be accepting if some people just do not want to attend; it is not always a sign of disengagement but might be linked to religion or neurodiversity or other personal reasons.

We’re increasingly seeing employers choosing other activities such as escape rooms, go-karting, laser shooting, or even worthwhile activities like helping out at a food bank, to bring the team together and enjoy each other’s company away from work.

For those who choose to party on, there’s always the option to go out for drinks afterwards, although what happens “after-hours” can still be linked to work and may affect working relationships, so remind your teams to look after each other and behave appropriately if they choose to carry on the party.

4. Be fair about the morning after

It is up to you as an employer how flexible you want to be about “the morning after” if the day following your celebration is a work day.

You may feel it is acceptable for people to come into work or log on remotely later than they normally would – or you may insist upon business as usual. Your teams may be able to plan activity and deadlines in advance so there is less pressure on the morning after the night before.

The most important thing is to be consistent – make sure everyone gets the message about what is expected of them, and if you do have to invoke lateness or absence management policies then do so fairly, and without favour. And, of course, make sure you and your leadership team lead by example!

5. Be prepared

As with so many aspects of people management, having robust and well-communicated policies in place will reduce risk and leave you better prepared if a challenging situation does arise. Remind everyone of your acceptable conduct policies, social media policies, rules on privacy and confidentiality, and absence and lateness before the event to avoid problems occurring in the first place and make sure everyone knows that the Company will not tolerate abuse or discrimination of any kind. Then ensure you have clear complaints and disciplinary procedures in place in case a a problem does occur.

These rules are not intended to bring down the mood of the celebrations, but most people will be pleased and reassured that the celebrations will be a safe and enjoyable experience. If you need any support with producing policies, or managing any issues that do arise, the experienced team at Reality HR can help. Just get in touch.