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Top tips for the company Christmas party

Ahhh Christmas! For most people, the Santa season is an exciting time. Summer is here, the year is coming to an end, and holidays are near. Then there's the work Xmas party.

They are a thing of myth and legend. Stories abound of how previously mild-mannered employees and managers took the opportunity to let their hair down just a little too far.

These days, most Australian companies recognise that letting staff cut loose at the Xmas party poses potential risks to health and safety, their reputation, or may even have serious legal repercussions.

As a result, some Xmas work functions are a little more buttoned-down or, in some cases, don't really happen at all.

But the fun police don't need to kill all the joy. Not throwing a Christmas party (or having a really dull one) may mean you miss a valuable opportunity for you and your people to hang out in a relaxed setting.

Parties are a chance to celebrate success and show employees how much you appreciate their efforts over the year, which in turn helps keep everyone motivated and improves staff retention.

So here are a few important things to keep in mind when you're planning and attending this year's Xmas party.

Key words: Moderation and respect

Let’s be honest, Christmas parties are not the issue. Alcohol is the issue and the way some people behave when they drink too much.

So, here's a totally crazy idea – why not do something that doesn't focus solely on alcohol? There are plenty of activities that don't revolve around drinking. Try go-cart racing, clay pigeon shooting, white-water rafting, master chef style cook-offs, or a child-friendly BBQ at a local park with games, music, face painting etc.

You could redirect the party budget to buying your people a small Xmas gift and then host a morning tea or lunch with secret Santa on your last day of work. Give people the afternoon off.

If these ideas just sound like a total nerd-out and you cannot possibly fathom the idea of a Christmas party without booze, here are some tips:

  1. Make sure a few of your team remain sober… no, not just the HR folks!
  2. Have plenty of food and structure the event so the food gets eaten.
  3. Have plenty of tasty non-alcoholic options - there are many on the market these days.
  4. Don't push drinks and respect people's decision not to drink.
  5. Organise transport – if the company is putting on alcohol then you have an obligation to ensure everyone's safety, which includes getting home safely.
  6. Don’t go overboard with the quantities of liquor and remember it’s against the law to serve alcohol to drunk people.
  7. Have a clear finish time, so it doesn’t drag into the night… or the next morning.

Trust that most people (the vast majority, in fact) are mature and restrained enough to know how to have a good time without taking the expression 'the silly season' too literally.

If in doubt, create a Xmas party policy

Of course, there are some people that can get a little rowdy or find they can't control themselves quite as the company and colleagues would expect.

There may also be people who don't celebrate Christmas or who find staff parties an anxious time. They may find social situations stressful, or they may have had a bad experience at a previous work event, been subjected to inappropriate behaviour, or done something that cost them dearly.

Also, plenty of people don't drink alcohol or won't be drinking at the party. Everyone's choices and beliefs must be respected.

So, to ensure things stay considerate and decent, you may want to issue a Christmas party policy that sets some clear boundaries and specifies the company's expectations.

Rather than making it a stock-standard, dry document, try to lighten the tone with the wording. People will be much more likely to actually read and understand it. You could insert some clauses like - 'When you’re in the zone on the dance floor and you can feel your inner Beyoncé or Channing Tatum about to bust out… please keep all items of clothing on'.

But there is a balance to be struck here. Everyone needs to know that misconduct, bullying, or sexual harassment won't be tolerated and no amount of blaming how many drinks someone had will excuse it. 

To be clear about what the business expects, issue the party policy at a meeting with your team, so you can speak to people like adults, answer any questions, and enlist everyone's support to ensure the event goes well.

Don't forget: emergency contacts

Make sure you have every employee's emergency contact details and that the details are up-to-date for the event, just in case the unexpected happens.

From a privacy perspective, employers have a responsibility to ensure employee's information is current and accurate before they use it. This could be a good opportunity to remind people how you store their emergency contact details, and that they need to ensure what is kept on file is correct.

So if the emergency contact is a flatmate you no longer live with because they moved cities, those details need to be updated.

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