The Christmas season is a time for celebration and merriment, and many organisations in Ireland host Christmas parties to reward employees for their hard work throughout the year. While these festive gatherings can foster team spirit and boost morale, they also present a series of HR-related challenges and risks that need careful consideration. In this blog, Liam Barton (Senior HR Consultant here at Insight HR) will delve into the potential issues that can arise at Christmas parties and provide practical insights for HR professionals in Ireland to handle and prevent these issues effectively, while keeping the Christmas spirit alive!
P.S. We’ve also got a very useful webinar coming up this month, where we’ll be taking a pre-Christmas look at some standout cases from this year, covering many of the topics we’ll speak about in this guide!
Join us for Case Studies with special guests from the world of employment law on Wednesday 29th of November at 11:15am! Register here and get it in the diary!
For now though, read on!
Identifying the Risks and Challenges
It’s very important to note that employers do have a duty of care for everyone’s wellbeing, and that all employees should be advised they’re still legally ‘at work’ while attending a work event.
So, before diving into prevention and mitigation strategies, let’s first understand the common HR risks and challenges associated with Christmas parties.
Sexual Harassment – Christmas parties often involve alcohol consumption, which can lower inhibitions and lead to inappropriate behaviour, including sexual harassment. In October 2021, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre published the results of a survey of 940 individuals, which took place in 2018, showing that 75.7% of respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment. One of the starkest findings in the research revealed that out of those who had reported experiencing sexual harassment, 60 percent of them said they had been sexually harassed at work. It is crucial for HR professionals to be vigilant and prepared to address such issues promptly and effectively. Check out or previous podcast on this very topic for advice!
Arguments and Conflicts – Intoxication, combined with the pressures of the holiday season, can sometimes lead to disagreements and conflicts among employees. Especially since many people may still be meeting each other for the first time, given the remote working world. And although this may be more on the awkward side of things than the conflict side of things, it’s these types of atmospheric conditions that may cause issues. In turn, these disputes may spill over into the workplace, affecting productivity and team dynamics. In our experience, people often say and do things at Christmas parties which they would never normally consider doing at work. In some cases, employees find themselves the subject of an extensive workplace investigation for incidents which took place at a Christmas party that they can barely remember.
Bad Behaviour – Excessive drinking or a lack of professionalism can result in disruptive and embarrassing behaviour that reflects poorly on the company. This can damage the organisation’s reputation and employee morale. And in the world we live in, it is now becoming increasingly common for certain incidents of rowdy or bad behaviour to be shared wildly on social media. As I’m sure we can all imagine, despite any possible innocence or subjective perspectives on certain party-like behaviour, your employer brand can be seriously affected by content such as this, especially if it recounts or records particularly questionable or bad behaviour from employees.
Discrimination and Exclusion – Christmas parties should be inclusive and enjoyable for everyone. However, there can be instances of discrimination or exclusion based on age, gender, race, or other factors. As we know, Ireland and its workforce is increasingly diverse, meaning that many employees will have different religious or cultural outlooks on alcohol. Or in other cases, older or younger employees may feel indirectly excluded dependent on the perceived ‘target market’ for typical energy-filled, drinking-dependent Christmas parties. HR professionals need to ensure that all employees feel welcome and valued.
It is also important to acknowledge that, some employees may have varying relationships with alcohol. For instance, if you have an employee who suffers from addiction, the thoughts of a boozy get together may either trigger the employee or leave them feeling excluded (note – addiction is considered a disability, and may be seen to fall under the 9 grounds of discrimination in these situations). Check out episode 137 of The HR Room Podcast, where we spoke to Jennifer Cashman (Partner at RDJ Solicitors) about this very challenge.
Dealing with Christmas Party Issues
Establish Clear Policies and Guidelines – Before the Christmas party season begins, it’s essential to have clear policies and guidelines in place. Ensure that employees are aware of your organisation’s code of conduct, anti-harassment policies, and expectations for behaviour at company events.
Monitor Alcohol Consumption – If your Christmas party includes alcohol, consider providing a limited number of drink tickets per employee. Arrange for designated drivers or transportation options to encourage responsible drinking.
Educate Employees – Conduct training sessions on appropriate behaviour and respect in the workplace. Make employees aware of the potential consequences of their actions during and after the Christmas party.
Address Issues Swiftly – If an incident occurs, investigate promptly and impartially. Take appropriate disciplinary action as necessary, which may include written warnings, suspensions, or termination, depending on the severity of the issue.
Preventing Issues Before They Arise
Diverse and Inclusive Celebrations – To ensure inclusivity, consider organising a range of holiday celebrations that respect various cultural and religious traditions. This can help employees feel valued and comfortable.
Non-Alcoholic Alternatives – To reduce the risk of alcohol-related problems, explore non-alcoholic party alternatives. You can host family-friendly events, volunteer opportunities, or team-building activities during the holiday season.
Encourage Responsible Consumption – If you choose to serve alcohol, consider promoting responsible drinking in your event communications and provide non-alcoholic options for those who prefer them.
Anti-Harassment (or other) Campaigns – Launch a campaign to raise awareness about harassment and discrimination, emphasising the importance of respect and inclusivity. Although many of your employees will already be either morally engaged or well-versed on your company policies, it is always wise to reshare and recommunicate what is deemed to be acceptable behaviour and what is not, either in the form of policies, guides, FAQ documents, training sessions or otherwise. And last but not least, do also encourage employees to speak up if they witness or experience inappropriate behaviour, and share information on where & how to do so.
Alternatives to Traditional Christmas Parties
It’s important to note that it isn’t a “party or nothing” situation. So, what else could you do, if you don’t want to arrange a night out for your employees?
Team-Building Activities – Instead of traditional parties, consider team-building activities that promote collaboration and unity among employees. This can be a great way to celebrate the season while avoiding the potential pitfalls of excessive alcohol consumption.
Volunteering and Charity Work – Organise volunteer opportunities or charity events during the holiday season. This not only fosters a sense of goodwill but also strengthens your company’s corporate social responsibility.
Family-Friendly Events – Host family-friendly gatherings where employees can bring their loved ones. This can be a more inclusive and enjoyable way to celebrate the holidays without the pressure of a traditional Christmas party.
Theme-Based Celebrations – Organise theme-based celebrations that align with various cultural or seasonal themes. This allows employees to participate in festivities that resonate with them personally.
“I’m very much of the view that the event should be protected, but also that the employer should be protecting themselves too.”
Aisling Parkinson, Partner (Employment, Immigration & Rewards) at Lewis Silkin
Check out our recent podcast with Aisling on this very topic, right here!
Christmas parties are an excellent way to reward employees and celebrate the holiday season, but they also present HR challenges that require careful planning and management. HR professionals in Ireland must proactively address issues related to sexual harassment, conflicts, bad behaviour, and discrimination. By implementing clear policies, promoting responsible behaviour, and offering inclusive alternatives to traditional parties, companies can create a festive atmosphere that reflects the values of respect and unity. Remember, successful Christmas parties are those that leave a positive, lasting impression and build a strong team spirit within your organisation.
How can Insight HR help?
At Insight HR, we have decades of experience in helping leading Irish businesses resolve workplace challenges. Working with such a wide variety of clients means that we have gained a huge amount of experience in resolving all kinds of issues. Engaging with Insight HR next time your business faces a workplace challenge means that the issue will be dealt with effectively and efficiently. Whether it’s a workplace investigation (which our dedicated team can manage), training for managers and leaders (dignity at work, disciplinaries, and many more), sharing advice on topics like workplace discrimination, or a review of policies, procedures and practices, Insight HR has the skills to help you.
Proactively, our partnership approach is also future-focused, ensuring you can protect your business and your people, long-term.
“With Insight HR, your investment will never just be about fixing a problem or developing a strategy. Instead, our partnership approach arms teams with the knowledge they need to make better decisions. We leave HR teams better informed and more confident in their abilities to resolve future HR issues.”
Liam Barton, Senior HR Consultant at Insight HR
If you’d like to hear more about how we can support you with this, and any other HR challenges you might have, get in touch with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat to us directly on 0567701060!