HRM has written from one side of the argument, and argued a Christmas party is no longer valued. So, in the spirit of the silly season, let’s have some fun: here is the rejoinder.
As a response to yesterday’s HRM article about why you should cancel your work’s Christmas party, here are four reasons why they should be treasured.
1. People love them
Yes, there are studies showing that employees would prefer the money was spent elsewhere, but that’s not because end-of-year parties are inherently bad – it’s because some of them happen to be terrible. Because of all the points presented in the previous article, employers are fearful (and employees reluctant) to make the event what it’s supposed to be – a fun way to wind down a year.
Is the fear founded? It’s hard to say. While there are cases where Christmas party behaviour has ended up in a termination followed by an unfair dismissal ruling, there’s not enough evidence to say that bad behaviour is a common feature.
Perhaps the lesson we should be taking is similar to that expressed in Di Ambrust and Mark Shaw’s book The 2% Effect (you can read an extract here). Which is that 98 per cent of your employees are generally well behaved, polite people and that only two per cent are bad apples who need to be treated differently. Previous work events, or their behaviour in the office, should be enough to identify who these people are.
What it comes down to: you don’t need marshalls monitoring everybody, you need a culture that doesn’t tolerate bullying and harassment. If the organisation has excelled at responding to complaints all year round, and has made the workplace a safe place, your Christmas party is just going to be fun.
Of course, the organisation needs to be responsible with alcohol. And yes, letting people know that there are certain standards of behaviour is necessary. But that doesn’t mean policies should be announced like the organisation is a parent about to leave their teenagers home alone for the weekend. Everybody is an adult and it’s possible to create a legally sound document that isn’t painfully stilted (honestly, read this).
The thing is, if you’re in a workplace where commonplace moderation is the ultimate buzzkill, you’ve probably got bigger problems than the Christmas party.
2. A different kind of engagement
Even if every employee in an organisation loves their job, and is filled with a gratifying sense of purpose from opening to closing – work is still work. (Though if you belong to such an organisation and you need a writer, please consider me).
The nature of a modern job is such that there’s never much time for proper socialising. Every effort to do so is under the pressure of a deadline, the expectations of your manager, or simple exhaustion.
Which is why there’s few things better than the camaraderie that comes from a relaxed environment where you can discuss the year’s events. I’ve been to Christmas parties where month-long misunderstandings have been resolved, and where new business ideas have spontaneously sprung from conversations and then were made a reality in the new year.
3. The best reward program
While celebrating together is far from unique to Australia, it’s uniquely beloved by Australians.
The advantage of a Christmas party as a “reward” for employees is that it’s not connected to individual performance, and naturally emphasises the notion that everybody – from low-level staff members to the executive – is in the same boat. Nobody on earth will understand the stress of your day-to-day work better than the people at your Christmas party.
Many workplaces use the Christmas party as an opportunity to highlight top performers, others use it as an opportunity to give everybody a moment in the sun. While it seems to me that the latter is to be preferred, there’s no perfect answer.
The trick to making it a reward for everyone is avoiding a Christmas party that pretends to a workplace culture you don’t have. So if you’re an office that likes a party, don’t make your event a temperance convention. If you’re a more conservative organisation, don’t go hip and have a boozy Stranger Things costume event (really, don’t do that – it would mean dressing up like retro 13 year-olds).
4. HR has earned a party
There’s no rule saying HR has to organise the end-of-year party, but there should be a rule saying they’re owed one.
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