It’s the time of goodwill but, sometimes, the fun can go too far. As party season approaches, Alan Price, chief of operations officer of HR specialists Peninsula Group, gives practice managers some advice on ensuring everyone stays merry and safe this year
Festive social gatherings should be a fun experience for all involved, providing a welcome opportunity for management to reward and engage with their teams – but they can give rise to instances of poor employee behaviour if they are not managed properly; while most indiscretions are harmless, in some cases, poor behaviour could affect the reputation of your practice
When planning for the Christmas party clear boundaries need to be set which remind all employees of the behaviour that is expected of them and the potential consequences if these are not adhered to.
It’s not about stopping people enjoying themselves; it’s about setting boundaries so that everyone has a good time.
Still at work
As a company-organised event, Christmas parties should be treated as an extension of the working environment. If employees behave in an aggressive, inappropriate or dangerous manner towards their colleagues, or members of the public, this should be dealt with in the same manner as if the incident occurred during working hours.
If an employee can show that they were subject to any form of harassment at a Christmas gathering, and their employer takes no steps to prevent or respond to this behaviour, the company could be liable to a compensation claim for vicarious liability.
So, before you get the party started, it is essential that employees are fully aware of the standards of behaviour expected. Any complaints of inappropriate behaviour by a member of staff should be responded to via normal procedures. To make sure all staff members are aware of this, memos should be distributed before the party to remind employees that working rules, and company policies on bullying and harassment, extend to social gatherings.
Raise a toast
Despite the fact that everyone should be encouraged to have a good time, they should also be reminded to drink responsibly. Alcohol consumption, coupled with a relaxed social atmosphere, can influence situations -and decisions – which may not occur in an every-day office. It can be highly damaging for the reputation of the practice if individuals – who are usually trusted with sensitive, personal issues – are seen acting inappropriately in a social environment due to alcohol.
Managers should consider ways to discourage excessive drinking. Providing a free bar at an event probably isn’t the best idea! A potential compromise would be to offer a free bottle of wine for every table, or to allow for the first few drinks served to be free of charge, whilst ensuring that plenty of soft drinks are also available.
It may also be advisable to have a ‘sober’ member of management who is able to respond to any issues, should they arise. Making arrangements with local taxi firms can help to ensure that everyone finishes the evening safely, and no-one is tempted to drink drive.
It’s also worth considering that some members of staff may choose not to drink alcohol, for religious or other reasons. These decisions should be respected by everyone.
If the day after the party is a working day it is also important to set out the stance on lateness, absence and productivity; managers should ensure they are aware of the usual procedures for arriving late or any unauthorised absences. To help kick-start the day, you could offer a free, healthy breakfast to help staff to function better.
Christmas parties are a positive way of motivating a workforce and can be a fun occasion for everyone involved if clear boundaries based on company policies are maintained. Managers should remember that they have a duty to protect the health and wellbeing of their staff – a responsibility that extends to social events. A key element for practices is to have a robust anti-harassment and bullying stance that is fully understood by the workforce.