How to communicate Christmas-party etiquette

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With the festive period upon us, many employees will be attending client parties and end-of-year events – but just how can HR lay down some important ground rules without sounding like the Christmas Grinch?

“As HR professionals, we don’t want to validate a reputation for being the fun police,” says Karen Gately, a top leadership coach and executive advisor.

“We’re not there to stop people having fun, quite the contrary, when people are having fun and are energised, they’re more likely to be engaged,” she continues.

“However, we do have an obligation to educate people about where the dangers lie and we do have an obligation to set an expectation around how people conduct themselves, particularly if they’re representing the organisation.”

Gately, who was formerly the HR head at investment giant Vanguard, says the starting point for any organisation is to communicate an organisation-wide message about what is expected over the Christmas period.

“Depending on the size and set-up of your business, you may want to communicate a message through email, through your management team or through team meetings,” says Gately.

According to the Melbourne based leadership expert, the message should say something along the lines of: “Hey guys, it’s an exciting time of the year, many of you are heading off for functions and we’ll be having our own function, just to remind everybody we all have an obligation to look after ourselves and we all have an obligation to look after one another so please look out for your mates, if anyone’s choosing to drink in excess or isn’t doing well, look after them.’

“In other words, you’re sending out a message which says you recognise everyone’s in party mode, things get a bit looser and that’s human and that’s okay but let’s keep it tidy, let’s keep it professional, and let’s keep it safe,” says Gately.

Gately also says HR professionals should encourage staff to intervene if they see someone behaving in an inappropriate way which may damage their own reputation or that of the company.

“If people do slip up, if they’ve made the mistake, they really haven’t paced themselves, they’ve gotten themselves a bit under the weather, see it, do something, intervene,” she urges.

“It’s easy to make a silly mistake when you’ve had too much to drink and you don’t want anyone jeopardising their career over a silly mistake.”

While the message will hopefully protect the company’s reputation by reminding staff to behave appropriately, Gately also says it serves as a risk-mitigation strategy towards potential law suits.

“If somebody is hurt, or discrimination or harassment or some other breech goes down at the event, you’re going to be more protected in the eyes of the law if you have been very clear about those expectations,” explains Gately.


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