Every year around this time, the Ghost of Christmas Parties Past comes clanking down the hallway, dragging in its wake a chain of dread for employers and employees alike—drunken exploits, gag gifts gone wrong, ill-advised sexual overtures and the ever-present threat of bad dancing.
Here are 12 tips to ensure that what's supposed to be the best of times doesn't turn into the worst of times.
1. Make sure invitations stress that attendance is voluntary. Avoid conducting business, such as awards ceremonies, during the party.
2. Keep the festivities culturally inclusive. Avoid religious references and symbols and try to choose a time that does not conflict with employees’ religious observances.
3. Invite families. People tend to behave more responsibly in a family setting.
4. Follow up with a reminder to all employees that your company’s alcohol and drug abuse, sexual harassment and professional-conduct policies apply during the party. Word the reminder positively, noting that responsible behavior will ensure that all employees can fully enjoy the party, but also state that violations will result in discipline, just as they do during working hours.
5. Issue a “gag” order. Lawsuits are frequently spawned by offensive gifts, games and pranks. Include in your professional-conduct notice a reminder that off-color jokes and games are strictly off-limits.
6. Consider an alcohol-free party. Nobody says you can’t offer punch, fancy coffee bars or smoothies instead of cocktails.
7. If you do serve alcohol, consider serving beer and wine instead of liquor. Daytime parties also tend to discourage excessive drinking. Issue tickets rather than holding an open bar, which is an invitation to overindulge. Close the bar at least one hour before the end of the party, and take precautions to ensure that no underage employees have access to alcohol.
8. Hedge your bets: If you serve alcohol, provide transportation. Don’t just offer to call a cab. Hire taxis or private drivers and have them waiting to give rides.
9. Serve food, and plenty of it. Emphasize eating over drinking.
10. Ask supervisors and managers to help ensure that employees behave professionally. Designate one manager as the person to approach during the party if problems arise.
11. Treat complaints arising out of the party just as you would any other workplace complaints.
12. Plan activities to ensure that guests have something to do besides drink and chat and—heaven forbid—dance.
Final note: The U.S. Department of Labor offers more tips for safe workplace celebrations.