The perils and pitfalls of staff Christmas parties can be avoided to ensure the Festive Season doesn’t turn into the “Silly Season” this year, according to advice from a leading employment and resume expert. Staff Christmas parties play an important role in workplaces by allowing management to thank their staff, as well as provide an opportunity for colleagues to mix socially and celebrate the hard work they did together during the year.
But Resumes To You founder Matt Tutty has warned that companies must formulate responsible strategies to avoid staff misdemeanours and ensure incidents don’t turn into a long-lasting headache.
“It is important for employers to remind employees about acceptable standards of behaviour at work Christmas parties,” Mr Tutty said. “Staff should also be reminded that work Christmas parties remain work-related activities and employers have a legal responsibility to protect employees from sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination.
“With access to alcohol, inhibitions and standards of conduct may decrease and employers may find themselves liable for the actions of their employees.”
To avoid potential trouble, Mr Tutty said employers must have a clear plan in place to “minimise the risks of potential claims and to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable but safe Christmas party”.
Mr Tutty said this management plan can be communicated via newsletters, staff meetings, email or intranet, including reminders about responsible consumption of alcohol and safe ways for staff to get home such as taxi vouchers, shuttle bus or public transport. Other tactics that employers can use to ensure a safe time for employees is to schedule the staff Christmas party as a lunch, or transforming it into a family-friendly event by allowing partners and children to attend.
The Taste of Aussie contacted Mr Tutty and asked a couple of questions. Below are his responses.
- What do you believe are the two biggest mistakes made by “office party” planners ? Not planning in advance, setting ground rules (company standards) with staff, creating and following a time line to the event. Not involving others for suggestions.
- What are the two biggest mistakes made by attendees that generally lead to ongoing problems ? Drinking too much and the after event gossip in the workplace, along with those happy snaps that may have been taken and shared on social media while forgetting that the work party is still a company business function.
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How To Conduct Yourself At The Office Party
While the Christmas party can create worries for both employer and employee, it is an event where you can still behave professionally and have fun, and provides a great opportunity to socialize with co-workers and bosses within your company whom you normally don’t have a chance to mingle with. It all comes down to the simple mantra “behave right and you’ll have a great night”. And here are some straightforward suggestions to keep this part of your work’s social event calendar all sorted.
Showing Up Isn’t Optional
Rather than dreading the occasion, the right mindset can provide much-needed balance. Regardless of how you feel about the party or the office, office parties are a crucial part of the office dynamic. Think of it like a Sunday afternoon visit to Grandma – even if you don’t feel like it, you know that you probably should go.
- Accept that this is part of what is expected and expect to be able to talk to the people you do get along with, at the very least. It’s a good opportunity to meet your superiors in a casual environment and a chance for networking with new people. Both are great things for career escalation. It’s also a good opportunity to get the wallflower into a good conversation. You might be surprised and find a terrific person there.
- If work is paying, here’s a chance to enjoy food and alcohol at work expense!
- Consider leaving early in advance. When you’re deciding whether or not to agree to going to the party, it can help to reassure yourself that you can come up with a valid early exit strategy, such as having to attend a kid’s Christmas concert, or your spouse’s business Christmas party, etc. At least this way, you can save face by turning up for part of the event but leaving before things become awkward or strange.
Have an Early Exit Strategy
Arrange for a friend to call you at a set time. Go out of earshot to take the call, then return and say you must leave on an urgent matter. Some good excuses are your friend’s car broke down on the highway or your roommate is locked out of the apartment.
Decide what to wear. Find out what everyone else is wearing before the party and match the tone with your outfit:
- If it’s casual dress and you turn up smart, that will immediately put you on the back foot and make the rest of the evening very uncomfortable. It also opens you up as an easy target for derision. The same applies the other way round.
- If you are a woman, find a compromise between ‘I’m attractive and sexy’ and ‘Take me seriously, I’m a professional’. Revealing clothing, while fun, is not appropriate around your superiors. Think beyond the event to the image you’d like your co-workers to retain of you in months to come!
- If everyone is heading straight to the party from work, you don’t have to worry as there won’t be time to change, so clearly work clothes are the go.
Arrive on Time
This is an office party, not a night out with friends to go clubbing.
- Think of it like an office meeting, you don’t turn up to them when you feel like it.
- So turning up “fashionably late” is not an option and could also have you missing out on all the fun.
- Arriving on time gives you the opportunity to say hello to everyone, and still get out early without seeming rude.
Be sure to acknowledge all your co-workers, and especially your superiors and their associates as this will put you in good stead; the Christmas party is an excellent opportunity to cement relationships and to get known in a good way. Talk to your co-workers and bosses about work issues in a positive and complimentary light, focusing on achievements for the year and fun things you remember. And don’t be frightened to talk to your co-workers and management about things outside of work such as the cinema, football, hobbies, family, or dogs. And practice listening; this is as important as the small talk.
- Even if there’s someone you really don’t like, like Steve from accounting, it’s best to have a quick chat with them, and remember to use that winning smile.
- While the occasion may feel really informal, take care to still defer to superiors; this isn’t the time to be speaking your mind informally to management (unless doing so is the norm in your workplace).
Don’t forget where you are – technically, still at work because you’re with the work crowd, so treat the party as an extension to your work day. Keep in mind that everything observed has the potential to be turned into a judgment on your professionalism and work suitability. If there is one thing that can besmirch a reputation, it’s getting out of control on the liquor at the work Christmas party. No matter how much management has insisted that everyone let down their hair, just don’t. Wait until after the party if getting blind drunk is your plan; grab the few trusted co-workers and head off somewhere else. At the party:
- Eat first before drinking. Drinking on an empty stomach is asking for trouble. Space all drinks with water and more food, and lots of conversation.
- Join in the drinking so you don’t look like a stiff, but judge the tone carefully. If it’s a kicking party led from the top, and you’re having a good time, you can let your hair down a little more than usual but do be aware of your limits and keep in mind that someone is always watching with an eye to judge in the workplace context.
- Under no circumstances allow yourself to get hammered. The more drinks you have, the more likely you are to do something that you’ll regret.
- Avoid using alcohol as the excuse to let out a year’s worth of pent-up resentment and frustration about your boss, co-workers, or the workplace in general. Telling them what you really think of them will be remembered forever more as the truth from your perspective, and this can only harm your future prospects in the company.
Declaring Your Romantic Intentions
Be tactful and careful. It’s that time of year. If you’re having an office blowout and Jeanna from Payroll is there, you may be tempted to make your move. This can go either way. Remember, you will have to see this person at work on Monday. Think: Do I really fancy them? Do they like me? How much have I had to drink? Will I regret this in the morning? This is called a reality check. If you fail the reality check, under no circumstances should you make your move. If however, you have strong feelings for that person, this may be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.
- Be discreet. Your co-workers will gossip as soon as they see anything happen.
- On the other hand, you may find yourself being hit on – even by your boss. If this is not to your liking, be tactful. You don’t want to damage relationships with your co-workers or boss, so let them down gently.
- Don’t lead anyone on because you’re drunk and you feel like it. This will only create problems on Monday, especially if they like you more than you like them.
- Bear in mind the potential for claims of sexual harassment. Do not touch people in ways that can be misinterpreted, or say things that are considered demeaning or sexually provocative. Use your common sense.
If you see a co-worker overdoing the drinking or making a move when they are clearly not fully mentally cognizant, step in and bail them out. Explain to them what they are doing and how it appears to other people. If this doesn’t sink in, discreetly ring a cab and take them home. This is one time where your own executive decision-making can save their reputation. You can always return to the party after if liked, but don’t bring up what you’ve just done, as it’s a helping act to fix things quietly and with grace.
Social Media and The Office Party
Have a social media policy that outlines what an employee cannot put on their social media site
Posting pictures of and making comments on inappropriate workplace Christmas antics can lead to disciplinary action at work. The problem is that often employees don’t realise that what they say and put on their private social media sites can be controlled by their employer. This is even more problematic when their employer does not have a social media policy and hasn’t educated their staff in relation to it. Some recent unfair dismissal cases demonstrate that an employer may be able to dismiss an employee for what they have posted on their personal social media site.
An additional problem that occurs at Christmas parties is that when it happens outside of office hours and not in the workplace employees can be confused about whether the same rules apply as when you are at work. The result is that employees think it is okay to post pictures of work colleagues doing inappropriate things, such as photocopying parts of their genitalia. The problem is that sometimes these pictures can be sexual harassment and therefore subject to equal opportunity laws.
Social Media includes :
- social networking sites (eg Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, Bebo, Yammer)
- video and photo sharing websites (eg Flickr, Youtube)
- blogs: including corporate blogs and personal blogs; and blogs hosted by media outlets (eg ‘comments’ or ‘your say’ feature on theage.com.au)
- micro-blogging (eg Twitter)
- wikis and online collaborations (eg Wikipedia)
- forums, discussion boards and groups (eg Google groups, Whirlpool)
- online multiplayer gaming platforms (eg World of Warcraft, Second life)
- geo-spatial tagging (Foursquare)
- Internal Social Media technologies – Qmaster Chat, Lotus Notes Sametime* and Sharepoint*
- instant messaging, including Short Message Service (SMS)