T’is the season for the Christmas party, and employees everywhere are donning their posh frocks and penguin suits (or in our case, silly sweaters for a good cause) and getting ready to celebrate. But while the annual Christmas shindig is an opportunity for staff to shrug off the stresses of the year, it’s also a time when too much festive spirit can lead to trouble.

xmas jumperAdvances are made (sometimes welcome, sometimes not) and issues that have been festering all year rise to the surface (who was it said a drunk man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts?).

If you’re really unlucky, punches are thrown, venues get trashed and the finance director is caught in flagrante with their PA in the stationery cupboard (believe me, all of those things have happened).

It’s all pretty stressful for HR, who have to tread the line between wanting everyone to have a good time, while at the same time recognising that an employee’s bad behaviour could bring the business into disrepute or potentially even cause legal issues.  The HR profession is not alone in having mixed feelings about the office ‘do’. A recent survey from the Institute of Leadership and Management shows that while 82% of managers see team building as the biggest benefit of a Christmas party, one in five feel under pressure to make sure the party is a success and are unable to relax on the night themselves.

So if the thought of the annual Christmas bash is sending you crackers, here’s our guide to making sure it really is the season of goodwill:

1. Be prepared

While you don’t want to come across as the party police, it can be helpful to manage expectations and set a few ground rules in advance. If it’s a lunch-time do, will people be expected to come back into work afterwards?  If you’re in a client-facing environment, will usual dress rules apply or are sparkles and Christmas jumpers acceptable?  If people have been partying late into the night, is there any leeway on what time they come into work the next morning?  Has it been made clear what (if anything) the company is paying for and what people are expected to cough up for themselves?.Make sure you’re not the only one spreading this message.Meet up with senior managers in advance and ensure you’re all in agreement. You may want to avoid comparisons with Scrooge, but if everyone is clear from the outset, problems are less likely to arise

2. Keep your sensible head on

Tempting as it may be, it’s probably not the best idea for HR or senior managers to partake in too much Christmas spirit. You may be able to drink the CEO under the table, but now probably isn’t the time to prove it and if you fall off your chair after one too many Jager Bombs people may find it difficult to take you seriously in the future (particularly if you are having to discipline them for unprofessional behaviour). Save letting your hair down for another occasion, when you can party in private and any unfortunate falling into hedges on the way out isn’t going to be witnessed by the rest of the workforce.

3. Keep your eyes peeled

On the night, your mission is to work the room spreading festive cheer, while at the same time surreptitiously looking out for potential trouble brewing ahead. Having a few and having fun is one thing, but if you can see someone is approaching an unacceptable level of inebriation, you may want to pour them into a taxi before they do or say something they’ll regret (and that you may have to subsequently deal with in the morning). It’s probably wise to stay the course (even if carriages aren’t coming until 2am and you’re desperate to get home) so that you can keep an eye on the proceedings and make sure everyone has been dispatched safely home.

I wish you a merry (and incident-free) Christmas party and leave you with a seasonal joke that may resonant in your business, courtesy of Catherine Tate: “Who’s the bane of Santa’s life?  The elf and safety officer.”