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Office Holiday Party Best Practices

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Office Holiday PartyIs your office having a holiday party this year? If so, your company is among the 71% who will, according to a recent Public Policy Polling survey.

According to the same survey, nearly a quarter of employees actually dread attending these events. If you’ve seen the movie Office Christmas Party, it’s hard to believe that statistic could be true.

In the movie, employees go against the wishes of their CEO, played by Jennifer Aniston, to throw an epic and highly inappropriate bash. Images from the previews include live reindeer on an elevator, a Santa Claus-clad man sledding into a nativity scene, water coolers filled with booze, and flaming Christmas trees, just to name a few.

In one scene, a character announces over a loudspeaker “Tonight, the decisions you make will have consequences that will haunt you for the rest of your professional lives.” Unfortunately this sentiment rings true for some. According to the same survey, one in ten employees reported regretting something they said or did at their work holiday function.

While your company’s holiday party will (hopefully) be less of a legal liability, there are things you can do to ensure everyone has fun, and no regrets.

Don’t Talk About Work

The holiday party is not the setting to discuss the latest project or an upcoming deadline. Parties and work don’t mix, so keep them separated. Think twice about allowing any speeches about business, bonuses, or work-related activities. To create even more separation, consider hosting the party at a restaurant, catering hall or other off-site venue.

Make it Inclusive

In the movie, a reference is made to the party being called a “Nondenominational Holiday Mixer.”  While the name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, it does emphasize a good point: Be sensitive to any religious discrimination issues. Keep decorations and themes seasonal rather than religious to ensure employees of all cultures and beliefs feel included.

Limit Access to Alcohol

According to the same survey, a cautious 54% employers don’t serve alcohol at all. While the decision whether to allow drinking at the party is up to you, if you decide to do so, consider the following safeguards:

  • Exclude hard liquor, limit to beer and wine only
  • Provide plenty of festive, non-alcoholic drink alternatives
  • Tell the wait staff and/or bartender to refrain from serving anyone who is visibly drunk, and to notify an appropriate person if it becomes a problem
  • Identify designated drivers or hire a car service to transport those employees who drink

Address Problems That May Arise

If you receive a complaint from an employee related to the party, make sure to respond to it just as you would a complaint that occurs during normal working conditions. Failure to respond can lead to greater liability than the alleged misconduct. Don’t dismiss it without conducting a thorough investigation.

Don’t Force Attendance

If any employee chooses not to attend, whatever the reason may be, don’t push it. According to most wage and hour laws, if you require employees to attend a holiday party that is after work hours, you must pay them for the time they spend there. What’s the best way to get your employees to attend? Don’t make it mandatory, make it fun.

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