Thursday 22 August 2019

One of my staff is afraid of drunken inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas party

Christmas parties are intended to boost morale, but you don’t want a HR hangover after the event
Christmas parties are intended to boost morale, but you don’t want a HR hangover after the event

Caroline McEnery

Q: One of my employees has come to me to say that she doesn't want to attend this year's Christmas party because she feels it's just a big opportunity for everyone to get drunk and act inappropriately towards one another.

A As we approach the Christmas party season this is a very topical issue. Alcohol use in the office or at company events can be a sensitive subject. In addition, we have seen the growth of incentives and team-bonding events like wine Wednesdays and beer Fridays on company premises. The traditional barriers that were previously associated with work and drinking are blurring and this can present challenges that employers need to manage proactively to avoid inappropriate behaviour or employees feeling that it is not all the fun it was designed to be.

Step 1: Organising your festive party

There are many options now that deviate from the traditional dinner and drinks party. Activities such as laser tag, an outdoor adventure day, karaoke or a company field day have risen in popularity. Going for dinner at a restaurant is more inclusive, giving options to employees to avoid excessive alcohol use. Get ideas from the team on what they would like to do, which is the best advice we can give any employer.

Step 2: Is your alcohol and drugs policy in place?

The first and most important step is to have a policy in place, meaning you have taken proactive steps to address this before it became an issue.

Your policy should not be "one-size-fits-all", as different companies needs to take into account their industry and workforce and be clear in what works best for them. It is important to note that any breach of policy will lead to the normal disciplinary procedures being applied in accordance with the company's disciplinary procedures, with sanctions up to and including dismissal.

We don't want people to feel that they can't have fun but it is essential that they understand that their behaviour at work events needs to be appropriate and in line with the company dignity and respect policy, etc, to avoid problems when the parties return to work after the event.

Step 3: Follow-up reminder

It is important that in advance of the party you ensure that there is written communication to staff via a memo or email to confirm what is expected of them at the party. This will provide confidence to those who might be hesitant in attending.

In most instances parties go off with no issues. However, on the rare occasion where something goes wrong this communication and your policies form the basis of all spin-off actions.

A: Put a Timeline in Place: If employees wish to continue the night after the Christmas party please note that it will not classed as company time and it is separate to work.

B: Advise on responsible consumption of alcohol: Ensure you have reminded employees of this.

C: Social media: Advise your employees on the correct use of social media on the company night out. If your employees are engaging in social media tools, they should be advised to respect the privacy of colleagues and management.

D: Getting home: Advise your employees on how to plan ahead to get home safely by pre-booking a taxi or researching late night public transport options on

E Remind of consequences: Make your employees aware that any incidents which breach company policy will be dealt with as if they happened on company premises during normal working hours.

Step 4: What if there is a problem after the party?

In this instance it is imperative you ensure it is followed up, either informally or via internal company policies. If a grievance is raised about inappropriate behaviour, ensure you follow up with that employee and address it in line with your policy. Remember that the party is an opportunity to build morale and is a positive experience for all so consult with them to see what they'd like to do; try to focus on alcohol-only events; ensure all parties are aware of acceptable behaviour; and remember prevention is always better than cure.


Caroline McEnery is managing director of The HR Suite, which offers Ireland-wide specialist human resources and business solutions; a member of the Low Pay Commission and an adjudicator in the Work Place Relations Commission. She is also the author of The Art of Asking the Right Questions, a team manager's toolkit of HR-related tips.

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