The festive season is fast approaching with Melbourne Cup functions kicking off today, and some (very organised!) businesses getting in early with Christmas functions already organised for the coming weeks.

Each year we receive panicked calls from clients shocked about the antics of staff at their last work Christmas party, stressed about end of year shut down notices and rostering for the festive season while accounting for the public holidays. We’re here to help with some practical tips, starting with how to avoid those shocking incidents and behaviours at the Christmas party.

In charge of organising the event?

Booking the venue, choosing a menu, planning activities and sending the invites are the easy things to organise.  Managing employee expectations and behaviour, while keeping on top of the end of year business demands can be more challenging.

It’s important to be aware of your obligations as an employer and the steps you should take to ensure that your social functions are safe and fun, and that work Christmas celebrations do not end up in a not so festive litigation battle.

If you are in charge of organising the work Christmas party this year, there are a few steps you can take to avoid a HR disaster:

It’s all about the right place and time.

The right venue is essential in ensuring an incident free workplace event. It is important to understand the team, the diversity of cultural and lifestyle choices people have and choose to celebrate in a way that will be meaningful for as many people as possible.

Consider the following when choosing a venue:

  • Not all employees want to drink, so a family friendly venue might be more accommodating.
  • An activity like ten pin bowling, or lawn bowls can be fun and festive, encouraging a team spirit and taking the focus off drinking.
  • Employees will have a diverse range of food preferences and cultural backgrounds, so be sure to request in advance any requirements.
  • Its best to hold social events off site, even if you do have access to a space that might be suitable for your celebrations. It is easier to manage expectations and situations if they do arise, when at another establishment.
  • Any venue selected needs to be easily accessible for an inclusive night out.

Timing is important too!

Think about a day time versus night time celebration and how each of these might suit the culture of the workplace. If there are a lot of employees with families, perhaps a picnic BBQ during the day works best for your workplace. If your team is made up of predominantly younger uni students, however, then an evening at a bar or nightclub might be more suitable.

The date shouldn’t be too close to Christmas, as people have so many other commitments around this time, and be sure to give plenty of notice to have as many people attend as possible.

Choosing to have a work Christmas party on a weeknight, or having an early dinner is a smart way to encourage good behaviour and avoid things getting out of control. Most people will leave early to prepare for work the next morning! In saying that, if you are celebrating on a week night, let people know ahead of time the expectations around the start time and ability to perform the following day at work.

Be specific about the timeframe for the event when sending the invites. For example, if the party ends at 10pm, advise that after this time it will no longer considered an official work function, even if people choose to stay on at the venue. This is particularly important in regards to liability so be sure that it is communicated clearly.

Remind employees they’re representing the business.

When organising the party, don’t be afraid to make expectations clear. The policies which regulate the day to day workplace should remain consistent at any work event, and a reminder of this won’t go astray.

Alcohol can cause people to act out of character, and while it doesn’t have to be prohibited, it can be monitored. If providing complimentary drinks, make sure there is a limit and include a selection of food so that no one is drinking on an empty stomach. Remind staff in advance that inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated, and offer taxi vouchers or organise transport to make sure everyone gets home safely.

Deal with any complaints quickly.

Management will need to be active during the event, to ensure the work party runs smoothly. Having someone accountable will help keep things under control and staff are less likely to make poor decisions when their superiors are present and ‘on duty’.

It may not be possible to entirely avoid issues at your work Christmas party, but the way it is handled, should a situation arise, will be key. Follow up any complaints as soon as possible after the event for a quick resolution.

Have Fun!

With some forward planning and clear expectations outlined for employees, your work Christmas party can be a success and a great way to reward your people for their hard work through the year. Keep the atmosphere light and lead by example, making for a fun-filled celebration that is inclusive and comfortable for all members of your team.

Our team of HR specialists has seen it all. We know this can be a tough time of year for many reasons and we’ll continue to share our practical tips and strategies for a smooth and successful festive season. Contact us today for more information, and find out how we can help you and your business.