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It’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas…The Christmas party season is getting in swing, Secret Santa preparations are underway and the day to dig out your trusty Christmas jumper has nearly arrived!  

These types of events and activities have become annual features on the festive calendar for many workplaces. Staff often look forward to them with great enthusiasm, keen to spread festive cheer and embrace the spirit of the season. But remember that they may not be welcomed by all staff.

Here are some pointers to help you mark the holiday period in a way that includes all your workforce and is memorable for the right reasons!  

'Tis the season to be inclusive

There is no doubt that having fun with colleagues during the festive period can foster a sense of community at work, lift employee mood and boost staff engagement, as well as perhaps raising money for a charitable cause. But as not all employees celebrate Christmas due to their cultural or religious beliefs, it is important both from an employee relations and a legal perspective, that no one is made to feel uncomfortable or left out. You should therefore make clear to staff that events and activities like Christmas Jumper Day and Secret Santa are entirely optional, so staff can opt out if they do not feel comfortable participating. Similarly, you should make clear that any clothing staff choose to wear, or gifts they purchase (for example as part of Secret Santa), must be appropriate for a working environment. Try to embrace other cultural and religious beliefs during the year, such as Eid al-Fitr, Diwali, Chanukah and Chinese New Year, as this will help to celebrate diversity and ensure that all staff feel valued.  

A little sensitivity goes a long way

Be mindful too that the holidays aren’t a time of cheer for everyone. The current cost of living crisis, along with recent political uncertainty, transport chaos and concerns about Covid-19 or flu, may impact how staff feel towards the seasonal build up this year. Many people also find the holiday season hard to navigate for other reasons, for example if they are lonely, have difficult personal relationships, are bereaved, or are affected by certain health issues such as eating disorders or addiction. If your organisation offers an employee assistance programme, or has mental health first aiders/champions, remind staff that these resources are available to provide support (financial, emotional or otherwise).  

Avoid classic party planning pitfalls

Parties are back post-lockdown, which is good news for those employers who want the chance to boost staff morale, demonstrate how much they appreciate their staff, and provide an opportunity for colleagues to have fun and socialise in an informal and relaxed environment.  From an inclusion perspective, it is important to make sure everyone feels involved (if they want to be) and able to take part.

When planning work events, make sure your choices are as inclusive as possible. For example:

  • Is the venue accessible for all staff, including those with disabilities, or do adjustments need to be made? Keep in mind that neurodiverse staff may find a busy evening party too loud or off-putting, so consider whether you can make any changes to better accommodate their needs.
  • For some staff, Covid-19 will still be a concern, particularly if an employee lives with someone who is vulnerable, so think about how you can make the venue as Covid-safe as possible (for example, with good air circulation and space for social distancing where needed).
  • Think about the label you apply to the event – for example, could promoting the event as an “Annual staff party” rather than a “Christmas party” help to ensure that everyone feels welcome? The context will be relevant to how you approach this. For example, if your “Christmas party” is the only all staff event (or largest social) event of the year, calling it an “Annual staff party” is probably sensible to maximise inclusivity. However, if it is one of many annual gatherings which celebrate a range of religious and cultural events, then referring to it as a “Christmas party” may feel the right thing to do.
  • Consider the timing of your event - would a lunch or early evening event be more convenient for those staff with childcare responsibilities?
  • If partners are being invited, make sure that both opposite and same sex partners are included.
  • Remember that some staff may have special dietary requirements (either due to health issues or religious or cultural beliefs) and not all staff drink alcohol, so tell employees ahead of time that non-alcoholic alternatives will be provided and special dietary requirements will be catered for. Perhaps offering afternoon tea and cake could offer a more inclusive alternative to the typical Christmas (and often alcohol-heavy) menu.

Make sure it’s alright on the night

Keep in mind that even if you hold your annual staff party off-site, outside of normal working hours, and attendance is optional, you can still potentially be held legally responsible for the actions of your employees. It is therefore prudent to remind employees in advance that, whilst your staff party is of course a social event, those attending will still be expected to demonstrate the same standards of behaviour as they would in the workplace in accordance with your company’s applicable policies and training (such as Equality Policy and Anti-bullying and Harassment Policy). Make clear that conduct which breaches these standards will not be tolerated and may result in disciplinary action – even if influenced by alcohol. Now is a good time to check that your HR policies and procedures are up-to-date and fit for purpose. Speak with your Make UK adviser or email [email protected] if you would like further information about the support Make UK can provide.

On party night, it can be helpful to nominate certain managers to take responsibility to step in early if necessary to ensure that matters don’t get out of hand. If an employee drinks too much, or starts to behave inappropriately, make sure your ‘nominated hosts’ have authority to arrange for these individuals to make an ‘exit’. 

To reduce the risk of employees’ drink-driving, it is wise to remind employees that they should organise their journey home in advance if they are planning to drink alcohol at the party. Provide them with details of local transport and taxi firm numbers to encourage them to think ahead. If you are able to lay on transport to and from a venue (or even provide or facilitate overnight accommodation, if appropriate), that will always be appreciated.

The morning after

Finally, make clear before the party that all employees are expected to attend work the following day - if it is a normal working day - and that unauthorised absence will be treated as a disciplinary matter. Turning up at work still ‘merry’ or hungover is also not acceptable!  Would you be willing to allow staff to start an hour later than normal? Whatever you decide, ensure that you apply any dispensation to all. Be consistent in dealing with absences in the same way you would throughout the year, using your established procedures. 

How we can help

Make UK is here to support you with any guidance you may need during the festive season. Click here for information on our EDI+ services. If you are a Make UK subscriber, you can speak to your regular adviser for guidance on any of these issues. For details of how we can support you with a thorough review of your HR handbooks and policies (available at a discounted price if purchased in December/January) please email [email protected].

If you are not a Make UK subscriber, our expert HR and legal advisers can offer guidance on a consultancy basis. For further information, contact us on 0808 168 5874 or email [email protected].

News / Make UK / HR & Legal