Leave Lampshade at Home for Workplace Holiday Parties

By By Kathy Gurchiek Dec 14, 2012

More companies are loosening the purse strings and holding holiday parties in 2012, according to findings from a variety of industry sources. But, HR professionals are wise to remember how quickly “ho, ho” can turn into “oh, no!”

Consider the worker who brought a bag of Tupperware containers so that she could pack up all the party leftovers, or the employees who brawled over who had the best dance moves.

Other incidents that have left HR professionals reaching for the aspirin include:

  • An employee caught rifling through everyone’s desk during the party.
  • Two co-workers using the holiday picnic to duke out their differences.
  • An employee caught loading his car with food from the holiday party.

“Company events are for getting to know co-workers better and having fun,” said Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group, which conducted the survey that collected these responses.

“As with any social interaction with your boss and colleagues,” she stressed in a news release, “it’s important to display professional etiquette even outside of office events.”

She advised employees to:

  • Consider carefully whom they bring as a guest. When a celebration is employees-only, it’s a faux pas to bring a date, especially if your significant other is a “wild card” at parties.
  • Ditch the Santa suit. It’s OK to be festive, but don’t wear anything outrageous or too revealing. Find out the dress code and follow it.
  • Avoid sharing too much information. Keep the conversation upbeat and avoid cringe-worthy topics.
  • Don’t play paparazzi. While it’s fun to take photos at group events, refrain from posting embarrassing pictures of co-workers on social media sites without first getting their permission—and the work team’s permission, when applicable.
  • Know, and stick to, your alcohol limit. Drink in moderation if alcohol is served and don’t pressure others who choose to abstain.

Aaron McDaniel, co-author of The Young Professional’s Guide to the Working World: Savvy Strategies to Get In, Get Ahead and Rise to the Top (Career Press, 2012) advised fellow Millennials to use the “boss litmus test” when attending the company party.

“When you are doing anything with your co-workers—social or not—you first should gauge whether or not you would want your boss to find out about it, because there is always a chance [he or she] will.”

As for being indiscreet, McDaniel recommends Millennials to use the “Grandma rule”—don’t tell any stories or say anything they wouldn’t be comfortable telling their grandmother.

Raising a Glass

The 2012 Holiday/Year-End Activities survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 61 percent of 348 HR professionals said alcohol will be served at their 2012 end-of-year or holiday parties.

Susan Heathfield, management consultant, writer of theAbout.com Guide to Human Resources website, and owner of TechSmith Corp., thinks alcohol is the biggest trigger for outlandish behavior at company parties.

She recalled one website visitor who posted a story about a senior executive who stripped and then climbed the city water tower after drinking one too many martinis at the company party.

She suggested the following steps employers can take to manage employees’ alcohol consumption:

  • Make food and activities “front and center” of the party venue and place bars farther away, to take the focus off of drinking.
  • Limit alcohol to beer and wine.
  • Hold bartenders accountable for refusing service to those who are over-imbibing.
  • Serve food via party stations, rather than sit-down dinners, to encourage mingling and movement.
  • Have members of the event committee and other designated persons roam the party to be on the lookout for those who are over-indulging.
  • Make cabs available and encourage the use of designated drivers.

She recommends, also, that senior leaders personally greet guests as a way of reminding employees that the party is a workplace event.

“This is not a party with your friends,” she said. “It’s still a work function.”

Slightly more than one-half (57 percent) of the HR professionals SHRM surveyed said their organizations use drink tickets or impose a drink maximum to regulate consumption; 42 percent limit choices to certain types of alcohol, such as wine and beer; and one-fourth use a cash bar.

Only 16 percent have a formal policy and 17 percent have an informal policy that allows alcohol consumption at work-related events. The good news is that 90 percent hadn’t had an employee disciplined in the past 24 months because of drinking at work-related events.

Still, “it’s important to remember there is a fine line between having fun and having too much fun,” advised Rick Cobb, executive vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based consultancy.

“The economic recovery is still very fragile,” he said in a news release, “so it is not the time to draw attention to oneself with embarrassing conduct at the holiday party.”

Cobb noted that holiday office parties “are a relatively low-cost morale builder,” and at small organizations are “an extension of a more family-like relationship” that often exists among employees and employers there.

“The nice thing about holiday parties is that they do not have to be full-blown extravaganzas to be meaningful to employees,” Cobb observed. “A small company on a tight budget can easily host a potluck lunch where employees bring in a favorite dish to share with co-workers.”

Related Articles:

Religious Inclusion Requires Year-Round Attention, SHRM Diversity, September 2012.

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