Don’t let the silly season get serious

Staff Christmas get-togethers are a lot of fun – but the silly season can turn serious for your HR team if the celebrations get out of hand.

Resumes To You founder Matt Tutty says that the staff Christmas party plays an important role in workplaces by allowing management to thank their staff, as well as provide an opportunity for colleagues to mix socially and celebrate the hard work they did together during the year. But he warns that companies need responsible strategies to avoid staff misdemeanours and ensure incidents don’t turn into a long-lasting headache.

“It is important for employers to remind employees about acceptable standards of behaviour at work Christmas parties,” Mr Tutty said. “Staff should also be reminded that work Christmas parties remain work-related activities and employers have a legal responsibility to protect employees from sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination.

“With access to alcohol, inhibitions and standards of conduct may decrease and employers may find themselves liable for the actions of their employees.”

According to Mr Tutty, some common types of issues that can arise if a party gets out of control can include:

  • Falling over and being injured because a worker is under the influence of alcohol
  • Managers not leading by example
  • Staff inviting friends that were not invited
  • Inappropriate selfies and posts on social media sites
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Romantic fights over a colleague

With that sort of list, it might be tempting to cancel the event altogether! Canstar Blue caught up with Mr Tutty for some insider tips on keeping the festivities fraught-free.

Q) How important is it for employers to ensure that all staff have received the responsible behaviour reminder? How many reminders should be sent to staff before the event?

A) Setting the scene and preparing staff in advance helps to minimise issues. Lack of communication and preparation from employers could potentially lead to some unwanted nightmares, so it is important for employers to communicate this well via staff meetings, email, newsletters in the lead up to the event at least 3 weeks before on a weekly basis and a final reminder on the day or day before the event. Sending a friendly email to staff before the function will remind them that while the function is a time to have fun, it is still a work function. The email should also outline, or better still contain hyperlinks to, the relevant company policies as a reminder.

Q) How should employers draw the line between celebrating with their staff and managing the event responsibly?

A) Managers should lead by example. If they witness staff not complying with behaviour expectations or consuming too much alcohol then they should intervene. Ideally, there should be a number of managers or staff supporters present who don’t drink or drink very little so they can respond appropriately to incidents that may arise at the function.

Q) What should an employer do if they notice a staff member becoming too intoxicated or acting in an unacceptable way at the event?

A) It will depend on the specifics, but, for example, the employee may be pulled aside and spoken to about his/her behaviour or level of intoxication. This may be done away from other employees to save embarrassment. Another example is to have a general announcement made so all staff are reminded about drinking and behaviour. Alternatively it may be appropriate to stop the flow of drinks and limit the amount of drinks being served.

If you’re particularly worried about potential staff behavior, other tactics that employers can use to ensure a safe time for employees is to schedule the staff Christmas party as a lunch, or transforming it into a family-friendly event by allowing partners and children to attend.

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