As the year draws to an end, social committees at workplaces across the land gather like elves to get the annual office Christmas party off the ground. While this is generally a venue for celebration and merry-making, the combination of co-workers, alcohol and stress introduces an element of risk for both employers and employees. If you are on the organizing committee, then the following strategies should ensure your celebration goes off without a hitch.
Managing Alcohol At The Office Christmas Party
Over-intoxication is the crux of most problems at office Christmas parties. It leads to staff members humiliating themselves, disputes between co-workers and even injuries. It is critically important that management set the tone about this with professional behaviour, dotted with corporate announcements through the event, to remind staff that they are at a workplace event.
In addition, management must remain in control of the flow of alcohol. This is much easier to manage at smaller parties. However, if you work at an organization with hundreds of employees, then avoid the open bar completely. Instead, offer everyone one or two drink tickets. This is a tactful way to get the message out about responsible drinking without having to say so.
Use of Recreational Cannabis
Cannabis legalization requires employers to address intoxication from recreational pot smoking, as well. If you already have a corporate policy banning recreational cannabis use at work, you might want to reiterate this. However, if you want to lighten the rules, then issue caution about the associated risks of combining cannabis with alcohol. Also, you must arrange for a designated smoking area for this purpose.
And finally, extend your responsibility to ensure intoxicated staff get home safely. Arrange for taxi vouchers, Uber, designated drivers or nearby hotel accommodation.
With that out of the way, let’s discuss the next matter of utmost importance at all office Christmas parties – the food! Whether you are planning a six course formal or cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, expect dietary restrictions and plan for them. Putting out a call to your staff in advance will allow you to manage this matter, easily. Most caterers and restaurants will accommodate a wide variety of diets.
Furthermore, ensure all food items are clearly labelled and a representative from the food supplier’s business is present to answer questions about ingredients. If this is not possible then, for each item on your menu, ensure you have a list of ingredients available on site. Dietary restrictions are not always a matter of choice. For some individuals, food allergies lead to severe reactions and even death. Consequently, office Christmas party organizers must take this issue very seriously.
Office Christmas Party: The Dress Code
You would be doing your staff a favour by communicating the dress code for the office Christmas party. This will ensure nobody gets mocked or embarrassed for being inappropriately overdressed or under-dressed for the occasion. Most employees like to step up their wardrobe a little above their normal business attire for a celebration. Often, the choice of venue will drive the dress code.
Regardless, communicating the dress code keeps things clear, particularly for those new to your company or those from culturally diverse backgrounds who may still be learning the ropes about fitting into your corporate culture.
The office Christmas party sits at the intersection between work and play. The lines could get blurry after a few hours of merriment. Social media is far from “private”; it remains the loudest speakerphone in the world. It is not okay for individuals to broadcast someone’s unbecoming drunkenness on social media, preserving it for all of posterity, even if it seems like a funny or good idea in the moment.
To avoid this, you can declare it a phone / recording-device-free event. If this sounds too draconian for the occasion, then at least clearly communicate your expectations of the social media coverage of your event. Inform staff to exercise good judgment and common sense about their posts because hurtful comments or attempts to incite gossip can be construed as harassment. And remind them to obtain permission before posting photos of other people to their social media accounts.
Employee Health and Safety
As noted, the office Christmas party remains an extension of the workplace. The Occupational Health and Safety Act makes employers squarely responsible for the health and safety of employees at this event. This means you must remain vigilant about harassment, discrimination, intimidation, sexual assault as well as any physical and psychological harm that could come to your employees.
The strategies noted above not only contribute towards your risk assessment, they will also ensure your new year does not begin with left over interpersonal disputes, a Human Rights complaint, harassment allegations, employee injury, negative publicity or worse.
Susan Heim is the president of Equity Career Transition and Outplacement Services, offering personalized coaching services for individuals in their quest for the perfect job and career. Equity also provides cost-effective outplacement services for organizations, large and small, in both the private and public sector.
We wish you a safe and happy holiday season.
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