5 December 2016

An HR nightmare before Christmas

Some guidelines for headache-free Christmas parties

In the UK, as in many countries around the world, December means dusting off the office tinsel, decorating a tree in reception and dressing up for the office Christmas party. It’s also a nerve-wracking time for HR managers who balance a fine line between wanting staff to relax and worrying about all the things that could go wrong. But keep a few guidelines in mind and you’ll have a party everyone’s talking about for months – for all the right reasons.

Worry No. 1: If we have a party celebrating Christmas, what about people who aren’t Christians? Will we offend them?
If you’re lucky enough to have a diverse workforce, then make the most of it! Research suggests that a diverse workforce increases innovation and creativity through more varied frames of references and diversity of thought. Diversity is to be celebrated, so go ahead and celebrate Christmas, as well as other important religious festivals and seasons like Hanukkah, Ramadan and Diwali. We’re hoping that you already have an open culture where people of different beliefs, or of no belief, can talk about what’s special to them. An open culture that celebrates differences and encourages understanding means that all celebrations can be enjoyed freely.

Worry No. 2: If we provide alcohol, I’m worried things might get out of hand.
In a work culture and country that allows alcohol, there is nothing wrong with providing a limited amount of alcoholic drink. Many people enjoy a glass of wine with their meal or a warming brandy afterwards. But we all know that when people have one drink too many, their judgement fails. This can lead to amusing dancing styles at the very least, to all-out fights or ill-judged liaisons at worst. Your staff are adults and should know how to conduct themselves at work, but a pre-celebration reminder that lays down some guidance – playful but firm without being patronising – is always a good idea, as is serving only a limited amount of alcohol. A free bar all night is asking for trouble, because people are people.

Worry No. 3: After the celebrations, I’m worried we’ll have a half-empty office next day.
It’s important that staff are fully functional and fully present during their working hours, and this includes the day after the party. Most staff will be aware of this and behave accordingly but it’s likely that unless you create an expectation that arriving late, or not at all, is not acceptable, you may end up with half an office – with those that made the effort resentful of those that didn’t. Create a very clear expectation that employees are to come in to work as normal, through pre-party guidelines – again, firm without being patronising – and ensuring that managers and senior staff are good role models. Of course, you don’t want to extinguish the Christmas spirit so acknowledge that it’s fine for people to be a little more relaxed. Perhaps even welcome staff with a strong coffee as an acknowledgement that, yes, today will be difficult but that you appreciate their efforts. For customer-facing, early-morning staff, a little extra care like a tasty breakfast will be appreciated and motivating.

Forget your worries. Christmas parties – as any occasion, religious or otherwise, where staff can mingle and enjoy themselves, - can be a key part of a positive and productive work culture. Parties are excellent opportunities for networking and for staff to get to know each other as people rather than as work colleagues. A party is a big thank you from management to all staff, and an opportunity to recognise staff for their efforts. A culture where staff feel valued improves employee engagement and leads to greater productivity. And an organisation that is known for its culture of celebration and socialisation can be good for its brand and this, in turn, can help optimise its recruitment strategy.

If you’re still feeling anxious about your forthcoming Christmas party, here’s some special Christmas party statistics that might make you feel better. Christmas nightmares happen less often than we realise. Our infographic shows some of the most common mistakes people make at Christmas parties according to the UK’s National Accident Helpline’s 2015 survey.

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