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4 Tips for Preventing and Addressing Issues Arising From Office Parties

Ah, the holiday season. Presents, family and food are on the horizon, as are a few holiday jingles that will haunt you for the next few months. The ever-anticipated office party is also in the works to celebrate another successful year for you and your employees.

Though the office party should be a fun time for all, many HR professionals and employers dread the idea of it. In fact, a Challenger, Gray & Christmas survey found 11% of companies are skipping the festivities altogether due to the risks it poses to their organization and employees. Those risks include over consumption of alcohol, offending a co-worker, social-media shenanigans and even more serious issues, such as violating the law.

If your organization wants to rock around the Christmas tree and spin the dreidel, consider these tips for preventing and dealing with issues that could arise:

1. Proactively convey expectations

The jackets were hung on the coat rack with care, in hopes that the holiday party soon would be there.

As the party approaches, it is important to clearly and concisely communicate expectations of employee behavior before, during and after the festivities. This communication should be disseminated multiple times and include an outline of consequences regarding inappropriate behavior. It also should cover:

  • alcohol policy (if it is being served)
  • sexual harassment policy
  • social media policy
  • dress code (if the party is not during work hours)
  • guest policy

To ensure employees are comprehending the importance of your policies during these events, consider creating a custom learning management course whereby employees would need to take a quiz to ensure they fully comprehend your expectations. Even if your employees aren’t on work time, they should show respect and professionalism during any company-sponsored event. Adhering to these policies and other expectations communicated will create a safe and fun environment for all involved. Negligent conduct can and should carry consequences for any employee. Employees should understand – handbook policies still apply, even at an afterhours work event.

2. Apply rules to everyone

Employees were nestled all snug in their chairs, while visions of bad karaoke danced in the air.

From management to interns, an organization must provide a blanket policy applying to every employee, regardless of position. If the policy is broken, that person must be subject to the ramifications of his or her actions, especially activities that could put the company at risk.

3. Suggest or provide alternatives to potential problems

When out in the party there arose such a clatter, employers sprang from their spot to see what was the matter.

When alcohol is served, alternative solutions need to be presented to employees and guests. Some states apply “dram shop” or social host laws to an employer that serves alcohol to employees at a work event.  For example, in 2013, a California appellate court ruled that the employer could be held accountable for a worker’s actions following a company-sponsored event where alcohol was provided. In this case, the worker struck and killed another driver while driving drunk.

Any type of problem can surface during an office party, but you should take special care while dealing with violations of the law. When attempting to discourage excessive consumption of alcohol at a holiday event, consider these options:

  • if alcohol will be served, provide a shuttle service or designated drivers
  • provide Uber or Lyft gift cards
  • hand out drink tickets to avoid overserving
  • use a cash bar over an open bar
  • serve only nonalcoholic drinks
  • ensure food availability

Reducing your company’s and employees’ liability is extremely important in keeping holiday spirits high. But what happens when a clearly communicated company policy is violated?

4. Have difficult conversations after the celebration

When what to my wandering eyes should appear, but a chat regarding holiday cheer.

When it’s all said and done, ensuring your guests enjoy themselves also should be a top priority. Celebrating your organization’s accomplishments with co-workers is a great way to boost morale and increase engagement. Staying proactive during the event-planning process can reduce your stress and the chances of something going wrong.

If your pre-party communications regarding expectations of proper conduct were dynamic, yet an employee still violates the policy, a conversation must be initiated. That conversation should occur after the party, not during. However, if an employee gets too out of control, steps should be taken to remove him or her from the situation immediately to keep everyone safe. The discussion should be firm, and consequences should be carried out based on previous conversations.

With any company-sponsored event, risks should be assessed and steps must be taken to reduce liability. This holiday season, have your eggnog and enjoy it, too, while providing employees with definitive communication regarding appropriate behavior. When expectations are clearly set and communicated, everyone can enjoy a merry Christmas party indeed.