First off, let’s dispense with calling it a "Christmas" party. For the sake of inclusiveness and to avoid a religious slant, it makes sense to use the generic term "holiday party" instead.
Inclusiveness is one of the issues employers need to think about during this festive season, according to Kate Zabriskie, a consultant with Maryland-based Business Training. Companies should create holiday celebrations where employees of all religions and cultures feel welcome, she told Bloomberg BNA. And it’s a good idea to involve a diverse group in the party planning process, she said.
Now that we’ve zigzagged across that potential minefield, here are some other issues to consider.
Employers may want to remind their staffs that workplace rules of conduct apply at office celebrations, Michael J. Eastman, an attorney with NT Lakis LLP, told Bloomberg BNA. He said some employees forget that anti-harassment and other policies remain in effect at company parties, especially if they occur off-site or outside of working hours.
In addition to a general admonition about minding your p’s and q’s, Eastman suggested giving managers an extra reminder. It can help to tell them that "they should intervene if they see a situation that may cross the line," he said.
Lose the Booze?
Although alcohol can create problems at employer celebrations, neither Eastman nor Zabriskie went so far as to say that booze should be banned at holiday parties.
When serving alcohol, Eastman said, some employers offer to pay cab fare for employees to ensure they don't drive under the influence. Employers also may wish to use professional bartenders trained to avoid over-serving guests, he said.
"The precise steps that employers should take may vary considerably, depending on circumstances, but taking the time to ensure that everyone knows the rules will go a long way toward reducing the potential for mishaps," Eastman said.
"Focus on food and fellowship, and not what's being served at the bar," Zabriskie suggested. "That doesn't mean don't serve alcohol; it does mean not making it a focus."
The best way to prevent employees from violating company conduct policies is to have behavior expectations in writing, she added.
"You can be diplomatic by saying, ‘While we know our employees understand that we expect A, B, C, and D, we also know we will have plenty of guests less familiar with our practices. For those of you bringing guests, please ensure they are familiar with our celebration guidelines,' " she said.
Setting an end time for events that start with cocktails can also help employers manage employee behavior at holiday parties, Zabriskie said.
"If your event starts with cocktails at 6:00 p.m., you should be out of there by 11:30 p.m. at the latest," she said. "If your crowd tends to get out of hand, you may want to consider designating a few people to run interference. Sending someone home in a cab is better than dealing with some of the alternatives."
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