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Surviving Office Christmas Parties

Dec 13, 2007
Hands up who likes office Christmas parties? The one time of the year when ideally everyone gets to relax, celebrate the year and get to know people a bit better beyond their normal work roles.

That is the ideal ... what generally happens is a committee is formed or the office admin is drafted into the role of event organiser. They then run the gauntlet of:

First - the fight about the venue " I don't want to go there", "They don't have what I can eat", "Can't we go bowling/sky diving/ deep sea fishing instead", "That's too far to drive to", "We went there 4 years ago - can't we go somewhere different".

Next - setting the date. You are more likely to win Division 1 in Lotto than be able to pick a date that everyone can attend and even if you pick a date that starts out where everyone is free, at least 2 key people will pull out at the last minute.

Next - the outfits. Guaranteed someone will suggest fancy dress (or at least funny ties and Christmas hats).

Next - the entertainment. Karaoke, versus lawn bowls, versus just sitting and chatting.

Next - paid or unpaid. There are always "discussions" about whether attendance should be classed as work time or in their own time.

Next - the menu and alcohol. Set menu or self choice. To serve alcohol or no alcohol.

Finally - Secret Santa. Will you run one, how much will be spent and on what.

The big day finally arrives, the time to start arrives and people are still milling around the office fixing last minute emails and phone calls. One or two very lonely people wait at the venue by themselves until about half an hour late the rest of the crew arrive.

No Christmas function can happen without at least

* one inappropriate comment to the boss,
* two drunken office juniors create office gossip for the next six months by their antics,
* three people hate their secret Santa present,
* four people spend the whole time running down the company and
* five employees leave early.

For years I was the HR Manager at many Christmas functions and I can tell you - I hated Christmas parties!

I counted a party a success if there were no sexual harassment allegations popping up over the next week, if no junior embarrassed herself (it was always a girl) by doing a Brittany Spears and her many wardrobe malfunctions, if no girlfriend or boyfriend of an employee threw up or hit another staff member, if no one uploaded a video taken on their phone of the drunken antics and uploaded it to You Tube and if everyone got home safely without any car accidents or brawls on the way home.

Here are my top 10 "in the trenches" tips to hosting a Christmas party at your work.

1. Intent - be clear on why you are having a party. Is it to have staff relax and get to know each other better, to celebrate a great year, to commiserate a bad year, to get families involved in work? Whatever your intent - be clear and tell people what you are doing.

2. Parties are not a motivational tool - a Christmas party (no matter how expensive) generally is not a motivational tool for staff. They will not work hard all year for no praise and average wages on the hope you throw a great party once a year!

3. Parties are work functions - there is a lot of case law about this. If someone attends a work Christmas party they are generally considered to be "at work". That means managers are liable both directly and vicariously for accidents, injuries, harassment, vilification and all of the other nasties when people are at your party. Put in risk mitigation measures from the beginning.

4. Alcohol - in one word NO!!!!! If you really must supply alcohol you must also supply taxi vouchers to get people home from the party safely. You also need to ensure you have at least 2 managerial level staff (one male and one female) to be the "fun police" and keep an eye on people drinking and not drink themselves.

Most complaints and problems arise when people overindulge in alcohol or illicit drugs. The fun police's role is to keep an eye on drinking, protect people from themselves, go into the toilets and help people who are ill to get themselves safely sorted out and then go home. They also need to keep an eye out for videos and video phones recording inappropriate behaviour.

5. Have someone sober monitor the bar tab. Unless you have very deep pockets, if you are running a bar tab keep an eye on the spend during the night. I know some functions that started by costing $3000 and when the bar tab was added it ended up costing over $20,000.

6. Wages - if the party is during regular work hours then I would suggest attendance is paid (unless they are under absolutely no obligation or even subtle pressure to attend and they can remain at their desks if they choose instead of attending). If the party is out of hours then the party is unpaid.

7. Mandatory attendance. Don't do it! All attendance should be totally optional.

8. Secret Santa presents - they are fine to do but set limits on both money and the sort of gifts bought. A $10 limit is fine - make sure the limits include that there are no pornographic, R rated, insulting or abusive gifts bought (remember your vicarious liability ....).

9. Venues - do consider if the venue is appropriate for all members of your staff. This not only includes people with disabilities but also people of different religions and ages. Make sure the menu caters for Vegans as well as kosher if needed.

10. Codes of Conduct - remind all staff about your Codes of Conduct both on the lead up to the party as well as at the beginning of the function. Yes it puts the damper on things, but it will save you a lot if you do get taken to court (you can show all reasonable steps were taken to prevent a problem).

If you follow these tips your after party hangover should only be related to too much red wine and not in cases before various courts and jurisdictions.
About the Author
Ingrid Cliff is a Freelance Copywriter, Business Development and Human Resources Consultant to Small and Medium Businesses with her business Heart Harmony. Ingrid writes a free weekly business development newsletter and daily blog for small to medium sized businesses.www.heartharmony.com.au
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