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Be Present for Christmas – How to Manage a Works Party

Christmas Party Tips

Thursday, December 5, 2019

“‘Tis the season to be jolly” which for many also translates into… “the most wonderful time…for a beer”.

Christmas jumper puns aside December should provide an opportunity to reflect on the hard work of the year and have a little festive fun. Unfortunately, “fun” for a large proportion of the adult population, in this context, means one thing; the chance for a good session paid for by their employer.

It has been noted over the past decade, post-2008 recession, a large number of employers reduced costs by cutting their annual end of year events. Now the “Xmas Do” tradition appears to be returning; in response to staff requests for a social occasion in recognition of their efforts and a nod to the fact other benefits and pay rises had been on hold or reduced.

Regardless of whether you’ve had a break from the office party or not, it’s always worthwhile reminding yourself of the most effective way to host such an occasion. The trick is to avoid the risk of a celebration event becoming an embarrassment or worse ending up in a legal case.

One common misconception is that a works event held away from the office or outside normal working hours, removes your organisation’s liability from any incidents that might occur. That’s simply not true.

If you’ve organised the party/ lunch/ dinner you will be responsible for the care and consideration of your staff. That duty of care has been tested recently in cases where an “after-party” resulted in an altercation and assault. In Bellman v Northampton Recruitment, the MD of a recruitment agency and a number of colleagues decided to carry on the party, original venue a golf club but drinks continued at a nearby hotel. An argument erupted between the MD and a colleague resulting in a punch, a fall and the colleague (Bellman) hitting his head on a marble floor.

The tragic consequences of this fight resulted in Mr Bellman suffering brain damage. In its defence, the business claimed the “after-party” was not an event they could be responsible for. This was overturned on appeal when the judge ruled that the altercation was sufficiently connected to a working environment, with colleagues involved, an attempted use of authority by the MD and an argument about work.

The lesson here is to be on your guard with any such event, especially when alcohol is to play a part.

Top Tips for Running a Works Christmas Party

  • Remind ALL staff of their responsibilities and consequences for bad behaviour, a simple rule is to act as they would in the workplace and be mindful of others. It may do no harm to set out the facts surrounding recent cases such as that highlighted above.
  • Nominate at least one but ideally, two or three senior members of staff to abstain from drinking during the evening and to take responsibility for anyone who they believe may be at risk to others or themselves. Empower these managers to act and brief them on the disciplinary actions that staff will be subjected to if they act inappropriately.
  • Suggest to managers attending the event, who do intend to drink, to at least stay a couple of glasses behind their colleagues and sober enough to be in control of their staff.
  • Be sure to let staff know that you have their welfare at heart and if there are any incidents that cause concern they are to seek out one of the nominated managers and relay their complaint.
  • Reduce the prospect of binge drinking by limiting the complimentary drinks or simply paying for a meal but not the alcohol.
  • If you are planning on offering drinks don’t forget that many staff will not be drinking alcohol, either for religious or personal lifestyle reasons. Ensure plenty of alcohol-free options are available.
  • Be mindful of potential peer pressure that may be applied on younger or less confident employees by other members of staff. Encourage those who do not wish to drink to do so without fear of ridicule or pressure with repercussions for any member of staff found deliberately encouraging others to drink.
  • In addition to alcohol ensure that your staff are reminded of the consequences of being found taking or passing on illegal substances such as drugs or spiking drinks.
  • Make arrangements with local taxi services to guarantee that they are on hand for any calls to deliver staff home safely.
  • Dependent on the timing of the event and needs of the organisation be sure to advise those who are required to attend the following day that they should do so in a fit and capable state. You will not tolerate presenteeism in the form of an employee struggling through a day with a hangover.

One final point on the effective management of events is to ensure that the correct tone is set from the very top of your organisation. You can have the most comprehensive and commonsensical set of guidelines for an office party, but they can be very quickly undermined by a gregarious and free-range CEO or MD. The above set of guidelines apply to ALL and will be made all the more successful if they are followed by your senior management team.

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