A drunk woman, on the train home, was recorded by a fellow passenger as she confronted a man, putting her arm around him (as he tried to avoid her) before she started smacking another passenger in the face and grabbed a security guard in the crotch. She threatened other commuters and invited a male passenger to “come on take me”. All this before 7pm. She was, inevitably, on her way home from her office Christmas do – the biggest night out in the work calendar. Who knows what will happen when she’s identified and the HR department sees the footage (although given British Transport Police have been contacted about the incident, that might be the least of her problems).
It might have become the punchline of the festive party season, but the office Christmas party is going to provide enough gossip to keep the business banter going until next December. Here’s Randstad’s guide to surviving the office Christmas party – and ensuring it doesn’t turn out to be a career-limiting evening.
1. Do some work in the day!
Don’t mentally clock off from work by 3pm – the party doesn’t start for another four hours. Grab the fizz, by all means, but keep the spreadsheets open. You don’t want to come in the day after, with a roaring hangover, scrambling around to sort out all the stuff you didn’t do yesterday because you logged off three hours early.
2. Take it easy on the booze
With so much booze flowing, there’s always one person that goes too hard at the start and ends up in a taxi home before the buffet has even started. Don’t be that person. Watch how much you’re drinking – particularly, if you’re a bit of a lightweight. Bear in mind that it’s harder to judge what your limit is with weird Christmas cocktails. How many Snowballs can you handle? You have no idea. So have some spacers, pace yourself, and drink some water. Go in hard on the dress code, by all means – new research has found that it costs British women an average of £282 to attend their work Christmas party in terms of travel, accommodation and money spent on hair, makeup, and outfit – not the bar. You've got the whole night ahead of you. You need to remain standing upright, without slurring or staggering. If you don’t drink too much, I guarantee you aren’t going to fall over or throw up. If you attack the free bar, and get a little too "festive", all bets are off.
If you want to join in and demonstrate you’re not quite as boring as everyone thinks, take to the dance floor and treat everyone to your Dad Dance / Moonwalk / David Brent impression / worm / Single Ladies routine. Everyone enjoys a classic dance move. But don’t be left wincing the next day because you mooned your teammates or insulted a colleague. If you’re the boss, do your speech early and depart as soon as someone mentions the word “shots”. Save your big splurge for Christmas Day.
3. Stay away from business talk
Don’t have a go at your boss about your appraisal / bonus / last pay rise. That couldn’t be more low-grade. Equally, if you’re a manager, don’t discuss any employee performance or remuneration. It’s not appropriate and can lead to disputes over what was discussed or agreed.
Equally, show a bit of willing. Yes, you like to do your own thing. But you can’t get out of it. You have to put in an appearance. Drink the champagne, eat the meal, making some awkward small talk – then slip away quietly later.
As relationship expert Tracey Cox says: “Even if you absolutely detest your co-workers and hate your boss, it's really bad form not to show up to the office party. Leaving the second you can sends a similar message: I don't like you all so I'm certainly not spending any longer socialising than I have to. Like it or not, you're part of a team and the Christmas party is designed to boost company morale.”
4. Be good!
Professional “Honey Trapping” services, aimed at partners who believe their other halves are being unfaithful, say a third of people will cheat on their partners this Christmas – with the majority of affairs starting at the work Christmas party. Professional “Honey Trappers” can be hired by partners to entice their other halves into engaging in physical or emotional cheating throughout the festive period. Last year, more than 134 “Honey Trappers” were hired across the UK to try and seduce partners into emotional or physical cheating at Christmas parties and nights out over the holiday season. A third resulted in a cheating partner being caught.
But the office Christmas party has become a little more problematic than it was. Most companies frown on office romances – but some ban them. The boss of McDonald's lost his job for having a relationship with a colleague.
5. Beware of legalities
If you’re an employer, remember that you will likely be vicariously liable for any unlawful acts carried out by your staff at workplace social events. Any event you host is legally considered an extension of the working environment, even when out of office hours and outside of the workplace. So, the same duties therefore apply.
For instance, you need to take all reasonable steps to prevent employees committing acts of harassment. HR business partners should already have their “all staff” memo ready, reminding everyone how to behave – remind employees it’s a work-related event and a certain level of professionalism is still expected. That email might include some guidance about the acceptable standards of behaviour at work-related social events, and the disciplinary sanctions that could result from breaching them. Mention that illegal drug taking, verbal or physical abuse and harassment of a sexual or discriminatory nature will not be tolerated – and that any such behaviour is likely to result in disciplinary action. Your email might also include some social media policies – give your firm a fighting chance to avoid inappropriate and undesirable pictures of the management team ending up on Twitter…
All employees should be invited, including anyone on maternity or paternity leave, and even those on sick leave, where appropriate. Pick a venue, that’s accessible – somewhere with a flight of stairs leading to the entrance would not necessarily be suited to any disabled employees. If you are going to supply free booze, ensure that soft drinks are also available for non-drinkers. However much you are investing in the event, you can’t suggest that attendance is compulsory.
But when the CEO suggests cancelling the Christmas bash to save the money and the aggro, remember it’s a great opportunity to lift staff morale and give employees a rewarding social occasion. Don’t be put off hosting them. You know the only thing more depressing than the office Christmas party? Not having an office Christmas party.
6. Turn up the next day
You remember the food that the boss provided at great expense? That you didn’t eat? She knows that it didn’t pass on a bout of food poisoning to half of the office. As a manager, you might remind your team what is expected of them in terms of start times and work. You also need to take a consistent approach to disciplinary action for unacceptable absenteeism.
Lastly, enjoy it. “Having spent the past few years as a freelancer with no colleagues, I've come to appreciate the work Christmas party in a 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone' way,” says journalist Thomas Mitchell. “I realised I missed the charming awkwardness of an office Christmas party. The hate-to-love-it anticipation, the cubed cheese sweating on a platter, the cheap champagne in plastic cups. I missed the loosening of ties and the loosening of lips. Say what you will about the moral high ground, there is no greater feeling of human connection than when you stumble across a shared workplace grievance with a co-worker.”
So have some fun. Just try not to get into any fights on the train home.
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