Michael Millward joined Elly Fiorentini host of the BBC Radio York Drive Show to discuss the forthcoming Christmas festivities and the issues that this often creates for employers.
Gone it seems said Mr Millward are the days of a quiet dinner dance, or at least that is what some media reports would have us believe. It is easy to see why the thought of a works’ Christmas party would fill an employer with fear and loathing rather than good will to all!
For the employer the problem will be the repercussions of an employees’ behaviour,
- A drunken snog, which in the cold light of day is remembered as sexual harassment, sexual assault, or perhaps even an attempted rape. Or
- A disagreement that has been deeply felt for the whole year can when confidence has been bolstered by a few stiff drinks become a punch-up.
Then there is the potential for a discrimination claim
- Will serving alcohol cause offence to non-drinkers, who do not drink because of their religion?
- Will marking a Christian festival discriminate against anyone who isn’t a Christian
Or a civil writ for some form of negligence
- What if Jenny in Sales is allergic to something on the menu and she ends up in hospital? Will she be able to sue?
- What if Johnny from Accounts slips on the dance floor after being asked to dance with the Managing Directors’ wife and cracks his skull open: will it have to be recorded in the accident book? Could he sue for compensation?
- Not to mention the disruption to business operations when the morning after the night before arrives
- What if everyone from Dispatch is poisoned by the bread-sauce and there is no one fit enough to attend work the next day? How will the orders get on to the lorries?
There are said Mr Millward so many potential issues surrounding any large scale event, that it is a wonder that anyone ever takes the time and effort to arrange anything to mark the festivities.
Add the economic climate to the potential for trouble and it is easy to see why some employers don’t organise a company function and instead leave it to employees to organise something themselves, perhaps offering some form of financial support.
This may said Mr Millward be somewhat short sighted.
From an employers’ perspective these parties are a way of saying thank you to employees, and in a year in which economic conditions have meant that employees are being asked to make sacrifices and work even harder than normal cancelling Christmas maybe a very short sighted move.
But despite all the potential problems events will be organised. The majority will be very successful but just in case it is a good idea for employers to take a few precautionary steps.
First of all, it is a good idea to decide why you are holding the party, what is the message that you want your employees to get. Are you just having a knees-up or are you saying thank you for all the hard work that people have put in over the year, at a time when because of the economic climate more was being requested for proportionally less return.
Then just as with any other work related activity you need to explain what the rules for the party are.
Make sure that
- Your company behavioural standards policies and procedures cover activities away from the work place
- You have communicated your company employee behaviour policies to every employee. It’s worth using the Christmas message of goodwill to all as a catalyst for promoting these policies.
- The policies clearly describe the consequences of not maintaining these standards
- Employees understand that getting drunk at a works’ function is not an excuse for not turning up for work or arriving late the next day.
- Provision is made for people who do not drink alcohol or who are nominated drivers for the evening.
- Arrangements are made with a local taxi firm so that people can get home safely
- Employees do not feel compelled to attend. It’s a party so people should be able to say no if they wish.
- Involve your employees in making the party happen. Make it their party. Clearly define the budget and the need to include everyone. If you have people from groups that do not celebrate Christmas make sure that they are included and that they understand the British tradition of saying thank you at the end of the year.
- Employees have someone that they can talk to before during or after the event if they have a problem, – a telephone number to call
- Non Christians are included – Most religions celebrate some form of major festival at the time of the winter solstice so perhaps you could also include these in your plans. This would give everyone the opportunity to learn something new about their colleagues.
- People know not to publish photographs on line without the permission of the people in the photographs
- People know that comments made on social networking sites can be viewed as cyber bullying or indeed libellous.
The works’ Christmas do can be just as daunting a prospect for the employee as it is for the employer. Many a carefully crafted work image has been destroyed by taking advantage of a free bar or an over exuberant Robbie Williams impression on the dance floor.
Employees do worry that they are going to make a fool of themselves in front of their colleagues and perhaps even their boss, or worse their partner will be the one who embarrasses them both.
For employees who may be put-off attending for fear of embarrassing themselves or indeed being embarrassed by their partner Mr Millward offered two pieces of advice
1. Remember that although it is called a party, it is a works party and therefore it is a good idea to behave as if you are at work, not on a night out with your mates.
2. Don’t drink more alcohol than you need. You are not out with your mates and remember that people remember how you behaved at the Christmas party. You don’t want to be the subject of post party gossip.
Above all so long as people attend the party in the spirit in which it is provided there should be no cause for any problems for either the employer or the employee. But it makes sense for both to think ahead and plan for how problems are going to be avoided.