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Removing the Pain from the Christmas Party

Christmas can be a lovely time of year. Our trainee Lauren is an indefatigable advent-calenderist (I think I may have invented a new word). Every year she makes 25 colourful little boxes or bags which festoon the office ceiling during December. She takes endless trouble and plans the contents out like a general: Chris doesn’t like Haribos, Kirsty doesn’t do dairy, I like organic vanilla favoured chocolate etc.

The office decorations go up during the first week of December. This ritual usually coincides with the end of a week’s work experience by a local student and it’s a nice way to the end their week with us.

Despite the fact we’re still going hell-for-leather at the moment. I know that in about two and a half weeks things will go quiet for ten days and I can put the Russell feet up and enjoy a glass of something nice. Can’t wait!

But before we finish for Christmas, like many other companies we’re going to have a small celebration to thank the team for their hard work for the year. The workplace Christmas party brings excitement for some and dread for others. Each year at Russell HR we go out together for lunch to celebrate Christmas. We have a laugh and joke, share our secret Santa presents and enjoy some good food and a glass of wine (just the one Mrs Wembley!). It is civilised, relaxing and (I think) we all enjoy a break from the full-on screamers we are sorting out for our clients the rest of the year.

A few years ago I went to a Christmas party where a senior manager (who was married) kissed an employee; another manager was so drunk she had to be escorted from the building and a couple of employees threw trays of food on the floor. There were also some employees who did not come to work the next day, some for being too hung over and some hanging their head in shame from things that had happened the night before. The few days following the party involved some stern talking to those who didn’t behave as they should have done. When the managers don’t set an example it’s no wonder things got out of hand. Any social event can come with risks but the idea of a works Christmas celebration shouldn’t come with fear that things will turn messy. The Christmas party should be a time for everyone to get together and celebrate the achievements of the past year.

Sensibly set out your expectations from the start and do so in writing. Many of us enjoy a glass of wine. The problems usually start when someone overdoes it; this is especially the case if there is a free bar. Having one too many can often lead to acts of harassment, whether it be an employee telling someone he dislikes what he really thinks or to the other extreme of trying to make a move on an employee who doesn’t feel the same way. While we want employees to have a good time there needs to be some self-restraint.

If an employee wants to take a day off after the Christmas party, holiday should be booked in advance in the normal way. An employee who does not turn up to work the morning after the night before without reporting his absence is an unauthorised absence. You may be aware that an employee had a few too many the night before and he then calls in sick. He may genuinely be ill but chances are that he will just be hungover. Tell employees that absences the day after the Christmas party will be investigated and may lead to disciplinary action.

Traditionally at Christmas people exchange gifts. Many workplaces, including us, will do secret Santa instead of everyone buying each other gifts which can get pricey and also cause problems when an employee buys for all the team but the one person he doesn’t like as much. It minimises cost and also means that everyone in the team will get something. Pick names out of a hat or use a website to randomly select who gets who. Gifts should be appropriate for the individual, for example don’t buy chocolate for the employee who is diabetic or wine for employee who doesn’t drink for religious reasons. Gifts should not in any way constitute towards harassment for example being sexist, ageist or make fun of an individual for sexual orientation etc.

By setting rules at the outset employees are made aware of what is and is not acceptable and what may happen if he does not follow these rules. Managers also need to set an example of acceptable behaviour. Disciplinary action may be reasonable but what sanction is given will depend on the facts of each case.

We have included a fact sheet on the dangers of the Christmas party in our current free resources. Subscribe to access this and lots of other free information.

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