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Sunday, 6 December 2015

Tactics for a happy office Christmas party

Christmas Party

Now it's December, plans for the work Christmas party are well underway by now. Maybe the business is doing so well that it's an extravagant themed event at a top venue. Or a bit more modest, inside the average company spend of just over £100 per person? Or on a budget, where the party venue is a very large meeting room, everyone brings some food to share, the more senior staff chip in to buy the alcohol, there’s a quiz and some head-to-head physical games - like races on swivel chairs or ‘eat the most jelly babies in a minute’.

As the business owner, your intention here might be to give people the chance to enjoy themselves and feel a sense of greater belonging to the company. You might see it as a social gathering for people to let their hair down and get to know their colleagues a bit better. Or even to celebrate that your company has managed to navigate its way through the choppy waters of your industry this year to remain in business.

What you don’t want to do is to lay on an occasion that creates toe-curling, career damaging embarrassment for anyone, where productivity is damaged by people taking sick leave the next day, or worst of all, where you have to dismiss someone.

So here are some simple tips you can put in place to keep it a happy Christmas party:

Work with the party’s organizer – the brave individual who has researched, booked and fine-tuned your Christmas party, with tricks up their sleeve such as:

  • Timing the event so that the following day is a non-working day
  • A fun quiz between competing tables to inject a little competitive spirit, with a few curve-ball questions to ensure everyone has the chance to be involved.
  • Keeping the food flowing to absorb the alcohol, the stodgier the better.
  • Limiting the amount of alcohol the company pays for. When people need to buy their own, they’re less likely to over-do it.
  • If there are feuds and factions, separating people on any seating plan.
    Making sure people know in advance what the company is providing in terms of drinks, transport and accommodation.

Most important of all, give a big thank you to the organiser.

Be visible. If you’re the boss, attendance is practically mandatory. Make a point of staying as long as possible - even when the event is a bit dull. Being ‘fashionably late’ or leaving after half an hour will give people the impression that you don’t really care about the party...or them. Arrive with everybody else in the first 30 minutes and spend the first part of the evening mingling and socialising.

Spread the joy. The office party is your chance to meet people in different parts of your organisation who you might not see often. Keep moving and limit conversations to 5 minutes. When introduced to someone, like an employee you don't know, make it count. Christmas parties are a time to exude bonhomie and appreciation.

Don’t talk shop. Avoid in-depth discussions about business and head off employees keen to talk shop by steering conversation towards parts of your personal life you’re happy to share. It might be hard to put a complete ban on office talk but remember to enjoy your Christmas party for what it is – a social gathering for your people to let their hair down and get to know their colleagues a bit better.

Keep the tone inoffensive Good-natured banter at the Christmas party, with inhibitions loosened by alcohol and laughter, can sometimes cross the line into grounds for a discrimination or harassment claim. Banter about race, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or religious beliefs can land both the joker and the company in hot water if a colleague feels uncomfortable or intimidated - whether the colleague is the target of the joke or not. You and your senior managers will be very aware of the large financial penalties for such tribunal claims, and need to be ready to step in with a quiet word to the perp if you spot inappropriate or offensive jokes or teasing. If you turn a blind eye, you’ll be contributing to the wrongdoing. And no mistletoe.

Deal with punch-ups and threatening behaviour Every so often, rather than being the place for Christmas cheer and goodwill, fighting might break out. Or afterwards, a complaint of sexual harassment or bullying might be raised. Readers may be surprised to hear that employees drunkenly telling their boss what they really think of them, snogging co-workers in cupboards and photocopying their bottoms have also been known to happen. Such behaviours will require investigation and if proven, disciplinary action taken. This applies whether or not the event is on your premises or at an external event.

Above all, make the most of the event. It’s a time to shine and be seen by connecting with your people, raising morale and helping to build relationships that will last... well, at least into the New Year!

We hope your Christmas party is incident-free, but if it isn’t, do contact The Human Resource for advice and practical solutions on enquiries@thehr.co.uk or 07884 475303.