Mistletoe and mayhem: Surviving the company holiday party

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By Quentin Colborn

Office parties: Innocent fun or the practice manager’s nightmare? Most years there is sage-like advice about what not to do at Christmas parties. This year the advice has gone further with staff being advised to leave their mobiles at home rather than taking risky photos.

Of course any advice about Christmas parties presupposes that employers will be providing parties this year. Many places have seen the party in its format of yesteryear disappear; perhaps to be replaced by a staff funded evening with the employer making a very small contribution.

This year’s most newsworthy advice comes from Jonathan Whittaker, a leading employment lawyer. Jonathan’s advice is that organizations prohibit staff from taking photos at their office party with their mobile phones – but a digital camera will be fine.  The rationale for this advice is that it is so easy to transmit photos taken on a mobile and doing so could amount to a breach of privacy. The argument runs that a normal digital camera is much better in that it allows the person taking the photos to reflect a minute before sending them all over the world – or at least their world.

This of course begs the question as to why apparently normal, sociable staff members turn into very different characters at the holiday party – and in any event should we be worried what goes on? Of course we all know that employers can be responsible for employees’ actions at work events, and holiday parties come under that heading, but should the employer take responsibility for the actions of the staff? What’s the price for personal responsibility?

So if people go to a holiday party and make fools of themselves, whom do they have to blame except themselves? Furthermore, if someone takes a photo and passes it round for all to see, should employers really be bothered about this? Why should people expect to apply a right to privacy if they do things in public they would rather others didn’t see? To some extent this is getting close to the mindset that says ‘If there’s no evidence, it didn’t happen’.

I find this concept of almost whitewashing what goes on a little strange to comprehend. Is it too naïve to suggest that if people want to do offbeat things at an office party then they should be prepared for others to see them?

So what can those who have an HR responsibility do at this time of year? Should we issue the normal warnings about bad behavior leading to disciplinary action? Is our role to police events and decide what behavior is acceptable and what is not? I personally hope not, I firmly believe that responsibility for individuals lies with themselves and if there are issues with behavior, that is for the line manager to manage. Okay, we can advise them, but should practice managers be placed in the front line on this one?

So what has your experience of holiday parties been? Have you had to pry individuals apart and handle the type of disciplinary actions that the tabloids relish? What do you feel has worked well in managing parties? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.

About the author:
Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant based in Essex, UK who advises management teams on operational and strategic HR issues. 


Reprinted from our sister site, AccountingWEB.co.uk

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