It is with mixed emotions that I think about the upcoming office Christmas party.

On one hand, after the year that we’ve had, we deserve a drink or two. Nothing brings together a business like a day of good food, catching up with colleagues, drinking (responsibly of course) and secret Santa gifts.

On the other hand, Christmas parties are nerve-racking for business owners and HR professionals. Like many businesses, our Christmas parties are not without issue, despite the number of cautionary tales and warnings provided by HR in the lead-up.

The challenge for CEO’s, business owners and HR professionals, is to find the balance between company rules, employee expectations and a party atmosphere.

However, there is always the risk that:

  • Someone will have too much to drink.
  • Someone will forget to eat.
  • Someone will overshare too many details about themselves.
  • Someone will make an offensive comment.

And sometimes you just end up with an employee who ruins the fun for others. We call them the Bad Santa.

As a business owner, what can you do to reduce the risk of a Bad Santa?

1. Inform your team in advance of your expectations leading up to and during the Christmas party.
This is a great opportunity to refresh everyone’s assumptions surrounding the event. Remind your staffs that despite the festivities, the company’s code of conduct, behaviour expectations and dress standards still apply. Whilst everyone enjoys the free flowing champagne, it is important to remember that it is a work event and they do not get free reign just because it’s the holiday season.

2. Check on your staff and each other.
Business owners and managers are ultimately responsible for their own behaviour and the behaviour of others. It’s important to check on your staff before, throughout and after the event. This could mean that you keep an eye on alcohol consumption, anti-social behaviour or even ask staff to speak to a manager beforehand, if they need help keeping themselves in check. Not only is it important for management to look out for everyone, it’s important for your staff to look out for one another, especially if the party moves on to another venue.

3. Make sure everyone gets home safely and check-in with them the next day.
Have a safe transportation plan for employees leaving the venue and clarify the arrangements for those continuing on to another venue. Check in with your staff following the event to ensure that everything ran smoothly. Wish them a very Merry Christmas and make yourself available for a debrief (if they need it) or to report anything that they are not comfortable with. This year – go into the holidays without the worry that there will be an issue when you return to the workplace in January.

4. Improve company culture.
If the first three points don’t reduce your risk of a Bad Santa this year, then have a look at your company culture. What values or attitudes towards drinking and social events does the majority of your staff share? If they don’t adhere to the values and attitudes you want for your business, start building and encouraging a workplace culture that better represents what you envision.

5. Remind yourself that some people find the Christmas break tough.
For some, the holidays can be a tough time and whilst many people will be celebrating, it is important to keep an eye on those who are more anxious at this time of year. Maybe your staff do not have family close by, others may be estranged from their family or dread the in-laws. Changes in mood or behaviour in the lead up to the end of year is important for managers, business owners and HR professionals to keep in mind.

6. If something occurs – act fast and decide slow.
In the event that something occurs ‘act fast,’ and ‘decide slow’. If you see something at an event, discreetly move that person aside and inform them of what you saw. Ask them to stop, control or reduce what they are doing. Check with the other person/s in the incident to ask if they are OK. It doesn’t matter whether it is something small or something more serious, early and quick intervention is best. Later, when you have had a chance to evaluate the situation, get witness statements, review policies and understand the circumstances. You can then make a decision about what the outcome will be. Verbal warning, formal disciplinary action, or in some serious circumstances – termination.

No one enjoys being the ‘fun police.’ However, when employees are put in a decorated venue with free-flowing drinks, it’s natural for them to feel as though they are outside of working hours and may behave differently to being in the office.

Prepare your people in advance, enjoy your Christmas party and complete a our event checklist. You will then be in a much better position to have a very Merry Christmas and gift yourself an issue free new year.