Business

Don't let Christmas party bad behaviour dampen festivities

There are some hidden pitfalls to be avoided at office Christmas parties for employers and employees alike

THE festive season provides a welcome opportunity for businesses to reward staff for their hard work throughout the year, with many choosing to do so via Christmas parties.

And while these are planned as fun events, there are some hidden pitfalls to be avoided for employers and employees alike.

Of course, no one wants to dampen the Christmas spirit, but in certain cases, employers can be held liable for their employees' actions during nights out, if it is deemed to be an extension of the workplace.

It is prudent therefore, for companies to set out their expectations of the behaviour of staff ahead of any event, which along with other key steps, can minimise the risk of one or more employees spoiling the festivities for all.

A useful preventative measure is to remind those attending the party of all relevant company policies pertaining to their behaviour and, crucially, outline the impact any misconduct could have.

Among the most common issues to arise during the festive season are verbal abuse and sexual harassment. In addition to spoiling the enjoyment of the event for those involved, these can also have a significant and lasting disruptive effect in the workplace afterwards as the misconduct is managed.

Recent press coverage has highlighted significant issues around sexual harassment, and unfortunately, without guidance, some employees may not fully understand that the party atmosphere and consumption of alcohol are not excuses for unacceptable behaviour.

It is also strongly suggested that firms highlight their social media policy in advance of the Christmas party so that employees are aware of what constitutes acceptable usage.

The relevance of such policies has grown significantly in recent years as we live in an increasingly socially networked world. With employees able to share pictures instantaneously, the associated risks are obvious.

Planning ahead won't just be of benefit for the day or evening itself, but can also help avoid the impact of any post party absenteeism.

Just as with reminders of behaviour and social media related policies, employers should highlight in advance to employees that unplanned absence, without having booked annual leave, may also result in disciplinary action.

Of course, even with the best planning, the festivities may not always go as smoothly as hoped but as the Christmas party may be considered an extension of the workplace, it is incumbent on employers to take all complaints seriously.

Seeking professional guidance can help employers to action their party preparation and ensure the team festivities prove a positive, morale-boosting end to the year.

:: Janet Kerrigan is service and development director at Willis Employment Services, a division of Willis Insurance and Risk Management

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