The Office Holiday Party Survival Guide

Consider this blog post Part Two of our October 2015 post on workplace harassment and Halloween, which you can review here.  

'Tis the season! It's time for the annual office Holiday party.  The party where you get drunk with your co-workers and realize that they are people just like you.  Also, the party where lawsuits are made... sometimes.  This post is the Survival Guide for the Office Holiday Party with the general theme: #bewareofdrunkmistletoe

Tip #1:  Attendance is never required.  

Not everyone wants to be part of a celebration, whether it is for religious or personal reasons.  If you are going to throw a holiday party, be conscious of the fact that not everyone may care and that has no bearing on that person's work performance.  In other words, do not retaliate against an employee who throws shade at your office holiday party.  Let them be a Grinch on their own terms! Attendance at holiday parties should always be voluntary with no threat of being treated better or worse for attending or not.  This voluntariness may also save you the headache of a worker's comp claim if someone were to get injured.  Remember this case we talked about last year? 

Tip #2:  If there is drinking, there is no driving. 

If you are going to have booze at the holiday party (which is probably everyone reading), make sure you offer easily-obtained sober rides home.  This could be something as extravagant as a party bus or as low-key as an Uber.  The point is, employees attending an office party with alcohol should have access to transportation home.  Bonus points if the sober ride home is complementary and paid for by the employer.  

Also, make sure someone is responsible enough to observe those that may have had too much to drink but may also try to drive.  If someone's state of sobriety is even slightly in question, get them a ride home.    Remember, the term is "DD" for Designated Driver and not "DDD" for Designated Drunk Driver.  Another easy thing you can do regarding alcohol consumption is limit its use without being a prude.  For example, tell the bartenders no shots or limit an open bar for just an hour or so.  

Side note:  If there are booze there should also be food.  Hangry people are bad enough but hungry drunk people are the worst.

Tip #3:  Invite partners but kill the mistletoe.

Inviting spouses, partners and, significant others is a good way to get know your co-workers.  It can also help keep the crazies in line.  Most partners will do a decent job making sure the other isn't belligerent or causing trouble.  This will also make the quality of conversation way better.  Speaking as an attorney, we are some of the most boring people you've ever met.  Luckily at our office holiday party, the spouses bring up "normal" conversation topics like movies and music as opposed to attorney conversations that usually start with "Have you read that opinion out of the Fourth Circuit?"   Whether kids attend or not should be coordinated by the employees with kids.  Offering childcare paid for by the company is a cool perk that may bring out the parents in the group who never get to party. 

Regardless of who is invited to the party, leave the mistletoe behind.  Employees should be reminded of policies prohibiting things like physical contact (this could be as easy of reminding employees of your anti-harassment policy).  Party games like Twister, Spin-the-Bottle, or  Cards Against Humanity should also be shelved. (However, if you are reading this and can still master Twister, I'm impressed beyond words.)  

Tip #4:  Consider doing more than just drinking and eating.

Food, drink, and great conversation are a great way to bond with co-workers but you should add something else to the office holiday party.  Consider hosting a White Elephant gift exchange to the mix, organize a private screening of a movie, or have the party at a fancy bowling alley.  This will break up the excessive drinking and will also allow people to bond in a different way.  

Tip #5:  Remind employees that holiday parties are a luxury, not a right.

Monitor those in attendance at the office holiday party and make sure everyone is happy, healthy, and having a good time.  If someone's bad behavior starts to show, politely ask them to leave and/or order them an Uber home.  To the extent trouble can be stopped before it happens, the better for all.  Also, despite my title to Tip #5, office gatherings are, in my opinion, a great way to show appreciation for your employees and should happen at least annually.  It's important that your workforce operate as a team, even if the workforce is hundreds of people.  Bringing everyone together and showing them you care about them (and want to hang out with them) will go a long way when it comes to recruitment and retention.  

A Summary of the Office Holiday Party "Do's" and "Don'ts:"

  1. Don't dance like you're at a Frat Party, Strip Club, or Junior Prom.  This is a fine line so use discretion when hosting a dance party for employees.
  2. Don't allow employees to be over-served with alcoholic beverages.  
  3. Do arrange for transportation home for those employees who cannot drive.
  4. Don't hug, kiss, or grab an employee.  We're talking handshakes and high-fives only, people. 
  5. Do invite spouses, partners, significant others, and kids (if the party is kid-friendly). 
  6. Don't comment on appearances or engage in behavior that would be considered harassment inside the workplace.  
  7. Do offer food at the party.
  8. Do make holiday parties voluntary in terms of attendance. 
  9. Do remind employees of policies and expectations before the party.
  10. Don't be a total Scrooge! Allow employees to have some amount of innocent, non-harassing fun. Just be aware if things start to go badly (and in the words of Liz Lemon, "SHUT IT DOWN"). 

If you have any other questions specific to your office Holiday party, give me a call or email and we'll chat! Just remember:  #bewareofdrunkmistletoe 


PS:  This movie looks funny and is timely considering this post.