As Christmas draws closer, so too do organisation Christmas parties and end of year celebrations. As an HR Manager my email inbox has recently been flooded with newsletters and articles on the organisation’s legal obligations to safeguard employees while attending Christmas parties and making sure they return home safely at the end of the event. The obligation does not end with physical safety, but also the risk of inappropriate, discriminatory, bullying or other ill-advised behaviour of staff members while under the influence of alcohol at a work function. It can also extend to what happens to employees once the party proper concludes and they move on to other activities or just head home.
While such warnings are warranted in light of sad and tragic tales of incidents, injuries and fatalities occurring during and after company organised functions, the message can put a dampener on Christmas party preparations if delivered inappropriately. The question arises, how does HR deliver the message to employees without coming across as the Grinch who stole all the fun out of the Christmas party?
An all staff email has been the option adopted to date but getting the tone of this communication just right so that employees take it seriously – but not so seriously that they are scared to have a second glass of champagne – can be a difficult challenge. I have found being inclusive in tone in terms of it being ‘our Christmas party’ and ‘every employee’s obligation to ensure a good time is had by all’ helps to soften the message and stop it becoming too parent-like. Injecting some humour into the message can be effective as well but only if it doesn’t take away from the intent of the email.
Unfortunately not all emails hit their target, particularly if there is a tendency to bombard staff with email communications, and that can reduce the chance of all staff receiving the message. For this reason, a briefing with line managers can also work. Their assistance in conveying the message to their teams reinforces why it is necessary, allows questions and discussion, and can be included in the context of more light-hearted discussions around end of year functions. It also takes some of the heat off HR as the corporate cop and shares the responsibility with the management team.
Options taken by HR practitioners in other organisations include annual (or twice yearly) training sessions for all staff reminding them of their responsibilities at staff events thus removing the focus off Christmas specifically, the removal of alcohol from company organised activities or the cancelling of Christmas parties altogether.
In the attempt by organisations to minimise the risk to itself and its employees what role should HR play? And how have you conveyed the warning message to staff without spoiling the festive atmosphere?
Anne-Marie Dolan is the AHRI HR Manager as well as the Manager of Development and Research.