Holiday Cheer or Holiday Nightmare?

by Michael A. Holzschu

More companies are planning holiday parties for their staff this year than last, leaving more managers and business owners worried about the fallout from employees who don't exert proper self-control. Here are some important tips for making sure your party is a safe event.

It is that time of the year again, where many companies decide to have or not to have a company holiday party. Sounds a little like Shakespeare. The figures are a mixed bag depending on who you listen too.

According to the 19th Annual Survey on Corporate Holiday Celebrations, Battalia Winston, an executive search firm, tough times call for less partying 85 percent of 104 "leading businesses" say they will have some type of holiday celebration this year this is a 9 percent decrease from the previous year.

On the other hand, a survey by Chicago-based global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. of 100 HR executives, found an 11 point increase, from 79 percent to 90 percent, of companies holding holiday parties.

The results do not mean that everyone should run right out and plan a big wild party that lasts all night with unlimited alcohol. So what are some of the options if you are still going ahead with a holiday festivity?

First, what is the purpose of the event? Is it to say thank you to your staff? Say thank you to you clients and customers? Or a combination of both?

If your clients and customers are going to be there, this can actually help you to keep the festivity from getting out of hand. Your staff should remember that they are still representatives of the company and that the clients that will be there will remember any over the top type performance well after the party is over. The detrimental effect on your company revenues could be disastrous. So self-restraint is the key in this situation.



Some of the ways to help maintain self-restraint are:

  • Plan the festivity in the late afternoon/early evening with a definite start and stop time; i.e., 4 pm to 7 pm for example.
  • Do not have an open bar; instead use a ticket system to help control the amount of alcohol consumed.
  • Do not have too many bar setups. If it takes a few minutes longer to get a drink, it will not hurt anything. Also, an entrance and exit arrangement at the bar station can make things flow much smoother rather than the typical free for all seen at most events.
  • Serve only wine and beer. Beer from local or statewide brew houses is particularly in.
  • Serve a controlled spiked punch and plain unspiked punch for everyone.
  • Make sure that the place you are holding the party at or the bartenders that have been brought in have the last say as to when someone should be cut off. They have a liability issue under the Dram Shop laws of most states.
  • Make it a sit-down affair. This also provides control on consumption.
  • Invite spouses or significant others to attend -- this has an effect of reducing outlandish behavior. Plus spouses have a tendency of controlling things to the point that an offensive person's spouse may actually decide when it is time to go home.

Of those holding actual parties, Battalia Winston's survey found that 70 percent of businesses plan to serve alcohol this year, a 15 percent drop from 2006. Of those serving alcohol, a majority (58 percent) are taking steps to restrict consumption. Of the holiday celebrations, 54 percent will be evening affairs, compared to 46 percent at lunch, with three-quarters (76 percent) of the celebrations will be off-site, compared to 24 percent at the office.

Even though the Challenger Gray report showed an increase in the number of parties this year, it also showed that these parties would be less alcohol-fueled, with only 46 percent of HR executives saying their companies plan to provide alcohol which is down from 60 percent a year ago.

Today, there is no doubt that you can have a major liability issue staring you in the face if someone attending your event is injured or injures someone in an accident. People are even being held responsible for parties that are conducted in their private homes. It is possible to have a fun and safe event with proper planning.

Other issues that should be addressed are:

  • Remind employees that this is a company function and that the company rules of conduct are in effect.
  • Remind managers that they are "on duty" so to speak and are to oversee the event. The manager should also not attend any post event functions, as this can give the illusion that the post event function is company sponsored.
  • Arrange for no-cost taxi service to take people home if needed.
  • No one leaves the party with an open drink. This is a huge liability issue for the company and the caterer or banquet facility.

It is a festive time of the year that is to be enjoyed; do not let something happen that can cast a dark cloud over it. Limit the time for the party and have plenty of food with the beverages being provided. In most cases there are only a handful of people that have the potential to become problems. The vast majority of people will maintain their own self-control and enjoy the festivities. A well planned and orchestrated party can have a long reaching positive image for your company. All it takes is some careful planning in advance. 

Michael A. Holzschu is the managing principal in the firm of Holzschu, Jordan Schiff & Associates specializing in Human Resource Systems, with a special focus on employee handbooks, job descriptions, performance appraisal systems, harassment training, safety and quality issues. He can be contacted at (248) 476-6907 or by email at mholzschu@hjsa.com or the Company website at www.hjsa.com. The company’s client base is primarily small to medium employers from all types of industries located throughout the United States.

 
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