The office Christmas party – HR’s worse nightmare?

It’s that time again – the culmination of another long, working year (and 2016 has been one of the most controversial hasn’t it?) which can only mean one thing - the infamous office Christmas party.

It isn’t always tacky jumpers, copious amounts of lukewarm, cheap fizz and the odd Brent and Gareth lookalike – but it normally always unearths, or creates, office hearsay, and ends with a strong stockpile of gossip to keep the water cooler moments rife into January. But can an employee’s actions at said event – which often falls outside of ‘normal working hours’ – be a cause for concern for HR? Or can you truly let your hair down?

Executive Network Group has had its fair share of social gatherings – as a recruitment agency, setting attractive incentives around weekends away, nights out and corporate events are part & parcel of our culture, and a great way to upkeep the age old mantra of “work hard, play hard”. However the unspoken protocol of expected employee behaviour can fall short occasionally and staff members can often overstep the mark – but what should the next steps be? Should HR get involved and stage a disciplinary? Should Line Managers issue social bans? Or can these events muddy the line between your own free time, and strict employment policies, resulting in blurred HR proceedings?

The biggest issues HR will face, especially if your business supplies a free bar, will be concerning drunk and disorderly behaviour, and alcohol-fuelled violence and sexual harassment. Hollywood’s latest festive comedy, creatively entitled “Office Christmas Party”, sees Jennifer Aniston play a hard-nosed CEO, set to cancel the said festive event. The trailer is full of outlandish drunken behaviour – an extravagant stereotype of intoxicated staff shenanigans (I for one have never dressed as Santa and ridden a sleigh down the office stairwell – but then again ENG’s annual get-together doesn’t kick off until 23rd…), but the inspiration from the real life party is clear to see, with a clichéd Head of HR portrayal from Kate McKinnon to boot (complete with a  stomach churning Xmas jumper -  (https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/office-christmas-party-takes-aim-at-hr,-work.aspx).

So what’s the universal advice?

Play it safe - a simple statement or policy, emailed company wide before any social event, can easily relay and remind staff as to the appropriate behavioural protocols. And it’s a great way to prove that a business has a duty of care – the Xmas party is often seen as falling into the remit of “course of employment”, and employers can be faced with a lot of backlash should things take a turn for the worse. But remember that the office Christmas Party can also be a great morale booster, and a chance to see your colleagues in a relaxed environment – the investment in a few free bottles of wine, festive finger food, and a tinsel strewn venue, can really make a difference to an enjoyable festive break as well as next years performance.

I think it’ll be a long wait until alcohol takes a back seat, but untraditional approaches – team-building / themed activities – can reduce the ER casework burden come January too. Food for thought for 2017?

It’s all about balance – crack open the bubbly and celebrate the year gone by, as well as respect your peers and your employer’s wishes. Just maybe lay off the mistletoe…..

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