Whisper it quietly, but Christmas is fast approaching.
I know it barely seems a couple of months since the last festive bash, but offices around the country are already gearing up for the annual Christmas shindig.
They can, of course, be great occasions. Run properly they are good for morale, good for breaking down barriers and a chance for your staff to see a slightly more human side of their boss.
But run badly, they can turn into an HR and employment disaster area.
So if your company is planning on hosting a Christmas bash in the next few weeks, here are some tips all good employers should follow to keep everything fun and festive without falling foul of the law.
The first thing to remember is that the office Christmas party is effectively an extension of the workplace. You are likely to have the same safeguarding responsibilities for your staff as you would in the office – and the same legal responsibilities as well.
That means you need to think about issues surrounding sexual harassment, particularly when Rupert from accounts has one too many and starts pestering Christine from sales. It’s your responsibility to ensure that behaviour does not cross the line and turn into something altogether more unpleasant.
A good tip here is to write to staff ahead of the night to let them know what is, and what is not, acceptable. Remind them that they are representing the company and that the fact that they are away from the office does not mean the usual standards of professional behaviour do not apply.
It’s also a good idea to make sure you and your managers are really familiar with your company’s policy on Christmas parties. That way, you can monitor what’s going on and step in at just the right moment to prevent things going too far.
You’ll also need to consider discrimination issues. If you have staff who do not celebrate Christmas, you should take every possible step to ensure they are not excluded. Similarly, if you have staff who are teetotal, you must make provision for them and lay on plenty of non-alcoholic drinks.
And the party venue will need to be able to cater for the needs of any of your staff who have mobility or physical issues. It’s no good throwing a swanky bash in the viewing gallery at the top of the tallest tower in town, if it means some of your employees cannot access it.
You’ll want to check the venue over for health and safety issues. This is particularly the case if the party is being held in your office. Work environments and boozy parties are not the best of bedfellows, so check your building is insured and your first aid provision is up to scratch.
And make sure you review your disciplinary procedure well in advance. Does it cover some of the issues likely to arise and give both you – and your staff – clear guidance on what is acceptable behaviour? If not, get it re-written as soon as possible.
While you are about it, you might want to check your sickness policy. What are you going to do if half your staff call in sick the morning after the Christmas bash? Remember, you’ll need to apply any policy fairly to all staff, so you cannot use this as an excuse for managing out the office troublemaker. A better bet is to have the party on a Friday night so your staff have the weekend to sleep off any excesses.
Finally, remember that you and your managers are just as likely to overdo things as your staff. Beware the perils of tipple-tattle – discussing office politics and promotion prospects whilst knocking back the booze with your team – and don’t for a minute think that being a manager gives you any more entitlement to behave badly than anybody else.