Would this happen at your Christmas party? Dos and Don'ts for managers

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Would this happen at your Christmas party? Dos and Don’ts for managers

Would this happen at your Christmas party? Dos and Don’ts for managers

3 December 2013

As the party season has already begun and stories of festive mishaps or advice on appropriate workplace celebrations are appearing in the press, it is a good time to review our seven Christmas party tips for managers. 

This is an edited and updated version of the article Thinking as a Leader at the Christmas Party which first appeared in Stephen Bell’s blog.

I would like to propose that the end of year party is actually an opportunity for managers to demonstrate their commitment to workplace culture. This is about a state of mind and how we approach the function. Do we approach it simply as a participant or do we see it as an opportunity to increase staff engagement? This is a chance to understand more about patterns of team and staff interaction, morale and satisfaction. On the other hand this opens the door for you, as a manager, to ‘muck up’ badly; to embarrass yourself and allow the lines of communication and authority to be blurred; perhaps inflicting long term pain on you and the organisation.

Leaders can find themselves closing up shutters for the year, behaving loosely or without consideration for the state of our future relationships and forgetting that the organisation’s Christmas party is actually the springboard into the next year. This year, take a leadership mentality into your Christmas party; it provides you with another great opportunity to demonstrate that you are an effective, open, responsible and caring manager – key attributes for building and reinforcing staff engagement.

To use the Christmas party as a demonstration of quality leadership, follow these 7 tips:

1. Understand the guidelines, have a clear mind.

Be clear about what the organisation expects in relation to behaviour at any Christmas event. I like the description: relaxed, jovial and respectful rather than just fun. You should also understand the organisation’s position on matters such as drunkenness, cab fares, start and finish times, attendance at events following the Christmas party and other practical information (personally I advise managers not to attend after party events). This helps for a clear mind so that managers can be ready to make any difficult decisions that might be required on the night.

2. Set Expectations for staff.

It’s great to have a relaxed two way team discussion before the event about ‘what’s OK and what’s not OK’. This is a good opportunity to show openness and fairness; that the event should be for everyone’s enjoyment. You may well be surprised if you ask your staff about their own expectations regarding behaviour how naturally aligned they might be to those of the organisation. Set expectations in relation to responsible drinking, (if alcohol will be available), cab charges and start & finish times. Have a ‘Party Rules’ memo circulated prior to the event.

Would this happen at your organisation’s Christmas party? Watch the video to see how Greg, Blaire and Robbie behave at their festive work function

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3. Turn up.

Many managers tell me they don’t attend the annual break-up party because “they don’t enjoy being in a room full of drunks” or “it’s too dangerous given modern day legal risks”. In my view, no one should be that drunk (refer point 6) at a Christmas party and leaders should understand risk but not be paralysed by it. Demonstrate interest and commitment to your employees. Not turning up out of fear lacks courage and is an abdication of your responsibility as a leader to build a more engaging workplace. The harsh fact of the matter is that you are more likely to be injured by a drunk driver on the way home than be sued for negligence.

4. Be a role model.

The capacity and willingness to act as a role model is a key leader attribute. At the Christmas party, if you drink too much or take part in humiliating or belittling behaviour it puts you and the organisation at risk.

On the other hand, if you drink moderately (if indeed you want to drink alcohol), be happy, congenial and respectful you are likely to help set a positive, responsible tone. Self control is a great leadership attribute and a lot easier said than done. Be honest with yourself about your weaknesses (especially in social situations) and the triggers that might lead you to behaving in a way that might be regarded as unacceptable by your organisation. For example, if you have a tendency to enjoy socialising with a particular group of colleagues with whom you’ve had a long association, ensure that you make a concerted effort to move around the room rather than restricting yourself to this particular group.

5. Be Aware.

One reason I advise against drinking too much at the end of year party is that managers need to be aware and coherent. You are ultimately responsible for the safety and welfare of the attendees. You could even be an individual respondent in a court case should you fail to observe and act on behaviours that are potentially litigious. For example, when ‘tipsy’ Megan and Phil are making publically disparaging comments about Alan because he works ‘too slowly’ or Sandra and Kent’s dancing is becoming very ‘dirty’, recognise that this may potentially lead to a harassment claim.

6. Be prepared to act on bad behaviour and say goodnight.

You should be prepared to respectfully take people aside when you feel their behaviour is a risk to themselves or others. Don’t do it in front of the crowd; having difficult discussions in front of a team could cause a confrontation that ruins the night or gives a ‘smartie’ the opportunity they want to attempt to embarrass you in front of others.

If people are drunk or behave badly you need to be ready to say goodnight and send them home in a diplomatic and respectful way. Generally a friendly handshake, consoling words and a cab-charge will do the job. However, if an attendee is obviously a risk to themselves or the community you may need to organise a more ‘door to door’ arrangement (for example, two managers driving that individual home). If an injury occurs to the individual on the way home and it is deemed that the organisation has contributed to their condition and failed to take reasonable action to ensure the employee’s safety, then the organisation is potentially liable.

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7. Implement the boundaries of the function.

Finally, implement the start and finish times and ensure those attending the party know the boundaries of the party area. When planning, think about your duty of care; what are the health and safety risks and how can these be minimised? Choose a venue that is manageable for you and your other managers, so you are able to be aware of the attendees, their behaviour and any potential hazards. If the night is likely to be a late one, it’s prudent to ensure there will be a ‘responsible’ manager around until the end of the night and be clear when you are wrapping things up for the evening. When the party is over, take reasonable steps to ensure that people get home safely, such as organising a minibus service or handing out taxi vouchers. If some party-goers decide to continue elsewhere, remind them to behave responsibly and advise them of safe transport options.

Remember the Christmas party is work for managers. It is not a time for you to let the proverbial hair down. It’s an opportunity to build and reinforce the culture of engagement. You need to think about how you will approach the event and ask yourself the question ‘Am I committed to being a leader at the Christmas party?’

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