4 reasons to cancel the office Christmas party

Chloe Hava


written on December 4, 2017

The office Christmas party has long been a feature of modern work, but is it time to put it to pasture? Here are four reasons why the answer might be yes.

The Christmas party was once known as a time to celebrate the end of the year and reward staff for all their hard work and success. But the times, they are a changin’. Should you just call the whole thing off? Here are four things to consider:

1. Employees are over it

Are there other ways to mark the occasion besides dodgy canapés and copious amounts of booze? Lots of employees think so.

A recent US study conducted by Randstad found that over two thirds (75 per cent) of respondents consider philanthropy and charity to be the top priority. Many just want a bit of cheer in the office and for their colleagues to be a bit more amicable (54 per cent and 41 per cent respectively).

Perhaps we should cut the indulgence and do something different. HRM previously discussed how workplace giving can increase engagement while doing something positive for the community.

Beyond the boardroom is a program designed by beyondBlue as a team building activity. Some of the options include helping the homeless sell the Big Issue for a half day or building bikes and cubby houses that are donated to a charity. A good way to embody the Christmas spirit and strengthen engagement.

2. It’s expensive

Christmas parties can be costly, and is it really money well-spent? Almost all (90 percent) of the employees surveyed in the Randstad research would prefer that the money used to fund the annual Christmas do was funneled into a bonus payment or extra time off. Eventbrite’s Aussie Workplace Christmas Party Index found the average local business will spend around $10,000 on their 2017 Christmas parties, and one in six plan to spend between $10,000 to $100,000.

That’s a lot of money. Why not have a potluck lunch instead, as suggested by The Balance. Asking each employee to bring a dish, particularly a traditional dish from their country’s cuisine, is a great way to both save money and demonstrate inclusiveness.

3. #metoo

The Weinstein effect, or the Burke effect if you prefer, has put a damper on the festive mood. It no longer seems like a good idea to put the moves on Jenny from accounting after a little liquid courage (not that it ever was).

Suddenly, and unfortunately, Mike Pence is looking like a role model for many a confused man. According to the New York Times, some are beginning to think that avoiding private interactions with women is the answer. While that’s obviously the wrong attitude, could the office Christmas party turn into school dances, with men on one side of the room and women on the other?

Employers are likely to also be on high alert, especially when alcohol is in the mix. As previously reported in HRM, employer “policies, practices and procedures” will be under the microscope if action is taken against an employee for bad behaviour while under the influence.

Some ways to protect yourself prior to the event include:

  • Remind staff about the standards of behaviour expected at a company event.
  • Training marshalls to be on the lookout for any inappropriate behaviour, and how to diffuse the situation.
  • Reviewing company policies that relate to sexual harassment, alcohol and drugs to ensure nothing comes back to bite you should disciplinary action be required.

4. HR has better things to do

It may still be a given in many organisations, and quite a few might enjoy the responsibility, but HR really has better things to do with its time.

As a reader recently commented on an HRM opinion piece about how HR is not for “nice” people:

“Within this [the idea of not always being nice] lies the responsibility to say “no”, to push accountability back to where it belongs and for HR to stand firm in the work that matters. Anyone can organise a Christmas party or year-end celebration – it doesn’t need to be HR.”

Couldn’t disagree more with this article? Read our rejoinder, about reasons why you should absolutely have a Christmas party.

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13 thoughts on “4 reasons to cancel the office Christmas party

  1. Great culture you’re fostering with this article, Chloe…

    If HR pays more attention at employee engagement and less policing, you have nothing to worry about a Christmas or any function.

    I’m surprised HRMonline would publish such a narrow minded article at times when employers and employees need to trust each other to deliver high performance.

    1. I agree totally with David. If guidelines are clear and concise, alcohol intake is monitored, inappropriate behavior is dealt with quickly and concisely, a Christmas Party is a great time for all.

      David’s comment about how narrow minded is right on the mark.

      In order to promote engagement and involvement, these work sanctioned events should be structured and with a finite end time. From the end time, Employees must be made aware that they are required to locate somewhere else if they wish to continue their celebrations.

      The article just demonstrates the author’s desire to abrogate themselves from both responsibility and humans.

      Badly done!!

  2. I think you’re spot on with the comment “HR has better things to do with its time”….

    … one of those things would be enjoying the Christmas party like any other employee. HR are not the police, much as your article would suggest that they are. As for “training marshalls”, surely you have written that tongue firmly planted in cheek. It’s almost inconceivable that it could be written otherwise.

    How about, as David suggested, the HR you refer to extrapolates the time devoted to worrying about the Christmas party, spreads it over the course of the year, builds an engaged and aware culture, and leaves any cause for concern over a 5 hour party unnecessary?

  3. I think the issue with work related end of year parties is that by law it is treated as part of the workplace.

    I believe the answer would be to have it somewhere off site and to pass a law saying everyone is responsible for themselves. Like we are every other moment of our lives.

    Everything is over policed now and no one takes responsibility for themselves. If the party could just be considered a social gathering than a work function the world would be better off. It’s getting to the point where if someone trips over their own feet they look to blame who made their shoes….

  4. I’d be interested in seeing a similar survey done in Australia where our culture is known for having a drink or two, especially when it’s free. I’m sure there are many Australian employees who’d be upset if they were told the Christmas party is canceled to go build houses (there are plenty of other opportunities throughout the year for charity work).

    I’ve been to a few Christmas parties over the years and haven’t seen anyone be disciplined for inappropriate behaviour (I know that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not happening), but if you show trust and respect for your employees, they’ll show it back, even at out-of-work events.

  5. I’m not quite sure where to start after reading this unfortunate article. My doubts began upon reading the words ‘a recent US study’ on “American employees” (a valid study on Australian employees may have carried some credibility). This article is clearly based on companies that don’t manage their finances, have low engagement and a toxic work environment devoid of cohesion and respect for one another and possibly from personal experience?

    I can categorically state (based on many years of current experience) that organisations that are underpinned by a culture of respect for one another driven by entrenched values actually welcome the time of year when a work Christmas party is a time to celebrate hard work, actually enjoy getting to know colleagues they don’t necessarily liaise with and for a well-respected HR team to do the same.

    Come to my organisation Chloe. We dispel every point you’ve just made in this article, year in, year out.

  6. This is a disappointing article that feels like it could have come from SHRM in the US. Maybe it was written to create a large reaction?

    The opening line “The Christmas party was once known as a time to celebrate the end of the year and reward staff for all their hard work and success.” is still very current.

    Why would you create and develop a positive and aware culture to not reward staff for their loyalty and dedication over the year?

  7. This article is simply reflective of our changing times – don’t shoot the messenger. I’m one of the biggest critics of articles such as these, and there’s plenty to debate in terms of whether we LIKE what is being said vs what a lot of others, especially many in the US right now would agree with in this article, and who are struggling with modern basics, such as the realistic question about it being safer to avoid interaction with women in certain work situations: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/10/business/men-at-work-wonder-sexual-harassment.html?smid=li-share
    Are there bigger questions here: Where’s the PC Watchdog? or Should HR start working on a PC mediator role?

  8. We just had our office party recently at the Races, and before this all staff were sent a copy of the company’s Drug and Alcohol Policy and Anti-Harrassment policy by the GM. Talk about a damper! It was a joke for weeks beforehand.

    I know this protocol should be obeyed, and the company is responsible for the safety of everyone etc etc, but for goodness sake, we all wondered off to find people at other parties really enjoying themselves!

  9. I agree with many of the points of this article and on reading the comments, are left to wonder: if the Christmas party is still such a large part of your wonderful company cultures, what would be the harm in holding a celebratory dinner at another time of year, perhaps after financial year end, to achieve the same result at a different time of year than that recognised by most as “the silly season”. A different time of year would enable the company to establish what it sees as appropriate ways to celebrate, untied to the Christmas party traditions listed here such as getting overly boozy and having a crack at Jenny from accounting; the company would also establish that it values its employees all year around and actually wants to celebrate them, not simply appease them.

  10. Since metoo I hate socialising with any female co-worker and implement the Mike Pence rule to any interaction at work, always have a witness. The last thing I want to do is have to socialise with them when alcohol is present.

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