Holiday Fun or HR Under the Gun: Seven Keys to a Successful Season

company holiday party

December is always an interesting time of year for human resource professionals. While senior management is focusing on achieving year-end revenue goals and many employees are running ragged from Black Friday to Cyber Monday and beyond, those in charge of managing HR and payroll responsibilities are busy with year-end planning and making sure everything is in order before December 31st.

This is all the more reason why the last thing you want to confront is an unexpected crisis related to poor planning, bad behavior or something more serious during the holiday season. Here are some key steps you and your CEO can take to help ensure that you have smooth sailing between now and the New Year:

1. Alcohol – If you aren’t comfortable eliminating it entirely at company holiday parties, consider some other strategies such as having a cash bar; imposing a ticket-based limit on drinks per person; or changing the time of your event(s) to an earlier point in the day (lunchtime or afternoon, for example, rather than evening). In addition, always make sure you cut off the alcohol well in advance of the end of the party – and provide desserts and coffee too!

2. Behavior – Obviously, in almost every workplace the potential for business relationships to become personal always exists. But mixing alcohol, seasonal parties and a bit of the ‘holiday spirit’ can be a recipe for unwanted advances, inappropriate contact or worse. Make sure that your event(s) do not include activities that might encourage or provide a forum for this to unfold (a good example to ban is “mistletoe spots”).

3. Executives – Consider providing a briefing for the entire executive team reminding them that their behavior is the model by which others follow, reiterating what kinds of behavior are acceptable and unacceptable as well.

4. Conduct – Either send out an employee conduct reminder to everyone, or have department heads brief their teams. This may seem like ‘buzz-kill’ but then again, that’s precisely the point. Better to kill the buzz a bit rather than risk a raging inferno of miscommunication, allegations and potential misconduct.

5. Drama – Many company holiday parties have historically included skits or shows highlighting (and often mocking) the best and worst moments of the year. Just remember that those can quickly turn into disrespectful or discriminatory episodes about religion, race, marital status, pregnancy and more that can lead to direct legal consequences.

6. Faith – Companies can celebrate holiday events but it is ill-advised to allow anyone, even your CEO, to turn them into religious observances. Employees’ personal lives — including if and where they go to church, what belief(s) they may practice and so forth — are not things you should make assumptions about or preach to them on.

7. Attendance – Don’t forget that if you require employees to attend the holiday party (whether you directly state so or make it ‘functionally’ mandatory by, for example, only handing out bonuses at the event), then they must be compensated because it is an official company function that you are making a necessary part of their job. To avoid confusion in this area, make attendance optional and invite, don’t demand, their presence.

Remember, the one thing more important than a memorable party is a morning after with no regrets – for you, your executives or your employees. Make sure everyone has a good time within reasonable boundaries by setting the example and following through on it every step of the way. In doing so, you will help make sure that the entire company has a safe and successful holiday season.

Selected Sources:

Six Last-Minute Tips To Help HR Leaders To Avoid Holiday Party Lawsuits

Five Holiday Party Tips to Keep off HR’s Naughty List

5 Tips for HR to Help Employers Avoid Holiday Party-Related Legal Liability

Pro Tips: Five tips for avoiding holiday party-related lawsuits

Tips To Keep Your Workplace Holiday Parties Merry

Image Credit: lachiquita (Flickr @ Creative Commons)

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