How can I stop parties getting out of hand?

Our last Christmas party was a torrid and drunken affair. A married senior manager ended up in bed with his assistant and there was a violent argument between two other employees. This led to a tribunal and we’ve only just settled. I don’t want to ban festivities, as it is a chance to reward hardworking staff. Other companies seem to have a good time at Christmas, so how can I lay down the law without being an old humbug?


A. Alysoun Stewart of Grant Thornton writes:

It is up to you and your managers to set expectations and choose a format and environment for your festivities that is consistent with them. The party should increase motivation, but avoid excesses. This is as much a question of company culture as anything else.

Businesses have all manner of ways they can set and maintain the tone of the organisation. This becomes more challenging as it grows and becomes geographically diverse. It is easy for a small business to build a close-knit team with clear implied rules of behaviour. The management challenge then is to find ways in which that culture can be maintained and cascaded through the organization. It becomes something that has to be actively managed rather than relying on the natural course of internal relationship-building.

So, in advance of your party this year, think about what leadership tone and style you and your senior management team wish to adopt, what characteristics you wish the culture of the company to manifest both internally and externally, and how you want your employees to feel about the business. Then organise a celebration that will reinforce all the positive aspects of the company, its culture and their achievements.

Also, consider issuing guidance to staff (keeping the tone light) in advance of this year’s party. This way staff have been forewarned. And be aware that the Christmas party is an extension of work, so the usual harassment and discrimination rules apply. Finally, you have a ‘duty of care’ to ensure employees get home safely, so supply plenty of non-alcoholic drinks, consider finishing the party before public transport ceases for the evening, or provide phone numbers of local mini-cab companies.

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