Loch Associates

There are many benefits to having an ‘in person’ work Christmas party. It is an ideal opportunity for colleagues to get together in a relaxed setting, and to appreciate and celebrate team and individual success. However there are risks to consider for both employers and employees. 

The key to holding a successful Christmas event mirrors that of a successful team and workplace. It takes a combination of good knowledge of employer rights and responsibilities, sound policies and training, a positive workplace culture, good planning and communication. It’s important for employers, to know their responsibilities and plan early and carefully. 

Employer rights and responsibilities
Employers are likely to be responsible and liable for the event as they have a duty of care to their staff. Think carefully about health and safety at the venue and also about acceptable behaviours. Offering a free bar could be popular, however by providing this, will you be exposing the business to claims against the business arising from excessive drinking? Think about the time and location of the event, how easy is it for staff to get there and home, is it accessible for disabled team members and suitable for all groups and beliefs?

Your event is an extension of your workplace in terms of your responsibilities. Therefore, set expectations accordingly and communicate this clearly. Employees may be wrong by thinking that as this is a night out, outside of office hours, in a completely different location, they are not obliged to behave as though they are at work. Although you don’t want your Christmas party to feel like a normal working day, in some respects the boundaries must be the same.

Getting the balance right as an employer
Balance is key. Think carefully about what you’re responsible for on the night. Think ahead and try to make sure that if you’ve got any potential issues that could arise, you make sure they are avoided. Prime your managers to keep a watchful eye and defuse any situations. Look out for any unusual or unreasonable behaviour and look after all staff on the night. It is no surprise that many HR managers are super vigilant and drink little alcohol at work Christmas events.

It is reasonable to say, as an employer, “I’m liable therefore the same rules apply as in the office.” However, there is a balance to consider in terms of communicating expectations and setting the scene for a great event. 

Good policies, procedures and staff training are vital to protect you
To avoid discrimination claims it’s important you have effective policies in place and staff are trained on them. Employers are liable for what the employees do if they, for example, sexually harass another colleague at an event. Without policies and training being done, the employer will not be able to defend their position to avoid liability. Many employers have effective policies in place but don’t train staff, so exposing an employer to liability for the employee’s acts.

Evolving workplace culture presenting new Christmas event challenges
Workplace culture is evolving which presents new challenges. Hybrid working and more social media use means that people are not engaging in person on a daily basis. People are engaged in chat on social media regularly, where strong opinions and beliefs can be validated. Tensions can be heightened and this can spill over when people meet in person. Training managers to deal with this shift in workplace culture and communication is critical and important to keep in mind when planning and hosting work events.

Multi-generational differences and the needs of different personality types
You need to allow for the needs of different personality types. The more outgoing types may be bombarding managers with requests for a wild night with a free bar. There may be another group, quietly reacting with horror at this prospect and wanting a different type of event. A compromise event may be needed. Staff surveys can help you identify what the majority would like to do.

It is important to also consider multi-generational differences in the workplace and different expectations in terms of behaviour and language use. Up to date diversity policies and equal opportunities training is vital. An awareness of the expectations of different generations will help to create mutual respect and avoid flashpoints being created from outdated and unacceptable language being used, for example. 

Think about your team and their individual needs and expectations
Think about your team as a group of individuals with different needs and consider each separately. Individuals have expectations of their needs being accounted for, more so than before covid. It is harder to keep track and chat individually in a remote setting and so problems and anxieties can be missed. Talking to each team member will highlight needs and anxieties and enable you to tailor a Christmas event accordingly, providing facilities for anyone with specific disabilities and ensuring the venue meets travel needs.

Allow for anxiety post-Covid
For some there is a feeling of anxiety, post-covid, about meeting in person and possibly being exposed to covid at a Christmas event. There could be more anxiety about being in crowded areas as people are currently less accustomed to this. Ensure that managers do regular check-ins with team members to monitor and allay anxiety as far as possible. Perhaps encourage team members to work at the workplace more regularly before the event. 

Good planning and communication
Two-way conversations before the event, with management support and vigilance on the night will not only avoid flashpoints and conflict but enhance engagement and motivation, ensuring that everyone is able to enjoy a great event. 

The Christmas event stakes are high this year, however the potential benefits in terms of employee engagement and motivation are enormous. With a great workplace strategy, employers can provide an event, appreciated by staff and reap the benefits in terms of increased motivation and productivity in the year ahead. The culmination of a good ongoing workplace strategy will be a great Christmas event and a successful 2023.

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