Christmas office parties are legendary for the inappropriate drunken shenanigans staff get up to, and even the seemingly harmless secret Santa has potential for impropriety. While these may provide gossip for around the water cooler, do organisations need to take a tougher stance on behaviours once brushed under the carpet as simply ‘naughty’?
According to Emma Fay-Touhey, director at consultancy The HR Dept, it should. “In light of #MeToo HR’s role has to be more proactive; by assisting the organisation and line managers to set and communicate rules and boundaries ahead of the festive period,” she says.
Fay-Touhey says employers must take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment, whether in the workplace or outside of it, and clarify this in both an anti-harassment policy and a social events policy. HR should also compile a short list of ‘game rules’ ahead of any Christmas event to serve as a gentle reminder of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour.
“It’s important to remind employees that work-related events constitute an extension of the workplace, and make them aware that any inappropriate behaviour will be dealt with in the same way as if it occurred at work,” she says. “Employers should also consider whether work Christmas events with a focus on alcohol are a good idea.”
However, it’s essential to have senior management buy-in otherwise HR risks being dismissed as the “party-poopers”, she says. “The message must be cascaded down the organisation through business owners and line managers who should also understand the importance and will promptly investigate any issues that do occur.”