How to avoid your Christmas party becoming a catastrophe

Celebrating the end of the year with a Christmas party can boost morale and bring your staff closer together. However, be careful that the festivities don't turn into an HR nightmare

How to avoid your Christmas party becoming a catastrophe

By now at least one of your colleagues has probably already cranked up the volume on their computer to blast Michael Bublé’s rendition of White Christmas across your workplace. Others may have found co-workers swapping their customary business-casual attire for snuggly jumpers with reindeer on them. And with the holiday cheer steadily increasing many franchisees find themselves planning a Christmas party for their employees.

There’s good reason for employers to consider throwing their workers a good bash before the holidays. “Christmas parties can boost team morale, allow staff to celebrate the successes of the past year and encourage unity in the workplace,” says Chris Meredith, CEO of London Offices, the office provider. And he’s certainly not alone in thinking that: 82% of managers believe Christmas parties can improve team bonding and 57% say the festivities raise personal wellbeing, according to research from the Institute of Leadership & Management. “Christmas parties also act as a great close to the year and as an opportunity for employers to thank their teams for all their hard work,” Meredith says. Undoubtedly, an end-of-the-year get-together to celebrate the success of your franchise can have many benefits.

However, organising festivities before the holiday break isn’t without risks. Remember that even though employees may be off the clock, employers could still be responsible if things go wrong during work-related gatherings. “You don’t want to be a grinch and hold off the Christmas party out of fear of any liabilities,” says Sam Greenhalgh, associate specialising in employment law at Birketts, the law firm. “But at the same time you need to protect yourself as an employer.” Unfortunately, there are many things that can go wrong during a company’s celebrations: almost a fifth of UK workers have had a severe warning and about a tenth have been sacked due to their Christmas-party behaviour, according to research from Team Tactics, the corporate-events organiser. And this is something the team at Birketts knows all too well. “Typically, we find ourselves quite busy in January and February dealing with the legal issues regarding allegations about colleagues behaving inappropriately, harassing others or having had too much to drink and letting their mouths run away with them,” says Greenhalgh.

While things going wrong is the exception rather than the rule, it’s important that franchisees know how to deal with employees behaving badly at Christmas parties. “You should take them aside and tell them to think about their behaviour,” says Stacey Mead, HR director at The HR Dept, the HR franchise. “Sure, it may ruin the atmosphere for somebody but you have a responsibility to have a word with them if you think that they are going too far.” Hopefully, a quick chat can help defuse the situation but depending on the severity of the employee’s actions, the franchisee should also consider whether or not to the worker should be sent home. “You should then follow up on it on Monday by calmly speaking with them, investigating what happened and why they behaved the way they did and seeing if there can be any mitigation for it,” says Mead. Depending on the investigation’s results, the franchisee will have to decide whether an official disciplinary action is required and how severe any repercussions might be.

Equally important as knowing how to deal with issues as they arise during the festivities is knowing what to consider when planning the party. “Communication is key,” says Mead. By openly engaging with employees beforehand about what behaviour the employer expects, franchisees can ensure everyone feels included in the event and that they start off the evening on the same page. “If they were told beforehand to be mindful of their behaviour and the employee still completely ignored the advice, it gives the employer a stronger ability to manage the situation,” says Mead.

And while franchisees are busy planning the event, they must also give some serious thought to how to avoid excessive drinking. “It’s important to strike the right balance between being the office Scrooge and thinking of the wellbeing of employees,” says Shelby Neat, marketing manager at Team Tactics. “Unfortunately, alcohol is the root of many Christmas party issues.” Indeed, having surveyed 2,002 UK workers, Drinkaware, the alcohol-education charity, found that 13% regretted drinking too much and passing out at a company Christmas party. Furthermore, while two-fifths started out intending to keep their alcohol consumption at a moderate level, 32% felt peer-pressured by colleagues to drink more. Given the unwanted consequences over-indulging can have, it’s important that franchisees ensure that drinking doesn’t get out of hand. For instance, they can avoid having an open bar. “It’s all about ensuring there is a safe environment for all attendees and that everyone has a good time,” says Neat. So make sure your employees are jolly but that they go easy on the egg nog.

Finally, the most important thing for any franchisee aspiring to inspire great employee behaviour is to lead by example. “If you’re getting drunk and are rolling around with a hangover the next day, how do you expect staff not to do the same?” concludes Mead. “Behave in the way you want your staff to behave.” If you can do that then hopefully you’ll kick off 2018 with an energised team and without having to deal with any Christmas party fallout.

Eric Johansson
Eric Johansson