It never fails: this time of year tends to be busy for HR professionals. Performance reviews, year-end bonuses, and the ever-present holiday party. While great for celebrating a year of hard work, company holiday parties can also lead to employees lowering their inhibitions (via cocktails) and exhibiting poor behavior. I have never gone a year without a call from a client about an inviting text message, a suggestive comment (or two), lewd behavior (it is NEVER a good idea to take your pants off at work), or at worst all the way to sexual assault. While many think these stories are just fiction, they sadly are not.
The good news is that companies can take a proactive approach to minimize their risk at such events with a few simple measures. While implementing all of the suggested steps combined may be overkill, think about which of these might be worth a try. At the same time, keep your company culture in mind, so you don't achieve the opposite of what you're looking to do.
- Consider not serving alcohol (Gasp and immediately move on to #2!).
- If the mere thought of not having alcohol is appalling, at least consider a two drink maximum per guest.
- If you'd rather have an open bar and allow your employees to self-monitor, provide a car service so employees can travel safely to and from the party. Stay sober to monitor the situation.
- Consider having a luncheon instead of a traditional evening event. Perhaps have an event at the office starting at 3pm. This approach can take the pressure off of employees needing to bring a date, asking a reluctant spouse to attend or arranging for childcare.
- Consider a day of service in lieu of a holiday party. Giving back to the community can be rewarding and more memorable than dinner, drinks and dancing.
- If you are an employee, use common sense and stay with colleagues you trust. They will be able to jump in when they feel things take a wrong turn.
- If you do find yourself the recipient of unwanted behavior, say something! Do not think this is okay and brush it off. Tell your Manager or HR, but do not keep it to yourself. There are laws that protect employees from being retaliated against for making legitimate workplace complaints.
HR Is often considered the fun police. While it is not a title I wear proudly, there is a time and place for certain behavior. What may be appropriate around close friends at your home, is certainly not appropriate at work. The key to remember, regardless of location or event, YOU ARE STILL AT WORK -- treat it that way. If you do, I may not get that call this year!