Love them or loathe them, the traditional company end-of-year party is back with a bang.
Over the past couple of years, many organisations scaled back their festive celebrations or put parties on ice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite the current economic downturn, it’s been widely reported that the corporate demand for party venues is now outstripping supply – it seems people are ready and willing to go out and party this festive season.
For many of us, the end-of-year party will be the perfect time to don our best threads and celebrate the end of a frenetic year. But, while the annual festive shindig is an opportunity for staff to shrug off the stresses of the year, it’s also a time when too much merriment can lead to big trouble, and even bigger headaches for HR teams…
End-of-year parties: HR’s worst nightmare?
Now, we’re not for a minute saying HR are party poopers. And besides, if anyone deserves the opportunity to celebrate, unwind and enjoy the odd glass of bubbly or two, it’s hard-working HR teams! However, although everyone will be keen to enjoy themselves and get into the festive spirit at a work party, for some, it can all become a bit too much.
We’ve all heard terrible tales of work parties gone wrong: such as the employees who told their boss what they really thought after one too many glasses of wine. Or, the member of staff who thought it’d be a great idea to drive home after ‘only a couple of drinks’. Advances are made (sometimes welcome, sometimes not) and issues that have been festering all year can rise to the surface. If you’re really unlucky, punches can be thrown, venues trashed or unwelcome (and unflattering) videos of your company’s workforce start doing the rounds on social media.
These are the reasons why the end-of-year party can be incredibly stressful for HR. They’re the ones who must 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’. For example, a survey from the Institute of Leadership and Management shows that while 82% of managers see team building as the biggest benefit of a festive 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 a big end-of-year bash is sending you crackers, here are our four golden rules to help it go off without a hitch.
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. Things you may want to consider include:
- If you’re holding an event at lunch time, will people be expected to come back into work afterwards? The last thing you’d want to happen is employees failing to return to work and having to deal with an avalanche of unauthorised staff absences! So, ensure it’s clear what is expected of staff once a daytime event finishes.
- Are your company policies – such as code of conduct, grievance, disciplinary and absence policies – all up to date, understood and clearly accessible? It’s worth reminding your staff that they must still abide by the company’s rules and regulations when it comes to their behaviour, code of conduct to others and unauthorised absences.
- If your staff are in a client-facing environment, will the 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 start work the next morning? If your employees are intent on making the most of any big night out, you might consider allowing them to start and finish their days a little later, or bank overtime so they can take time off in case they need some valuable recovery time.
- Has it been made clear what (if anything) the company is paying for and what people are expected to cough up for themselves? The last thing your employees will want is an unexpected bill during what is often a very expensive time of year…
In addition, make sure you’re not the only one spreading these messages. Take the time to 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 what’s expected of them (and what isn’t), 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 Yuletide spirit. You may be able to drink the CEO under the table, but now probably isn’t the time to prove it! 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.
4. Remember, it’s a celebration!
Rules and regulations aside, it’s important to remember that the end-of-year party is an opportunity for your workforce – including yourselves – to celebrate their achievements. A well-managed shindig can provide businesses with a significant boost to both staff morale and loyalty – both of which could be vital to many organisations given the challenges managers are bracing themselves for over the coming year…
So, try to limit talk of shop, focus on the positives, and have some fun!