This year may be the first company-wide social event some people have attended since lockdown. Many will have missed the annual chance to get together out of the work environment and the opportunity to take advantage of their employer’s generosity.
As part of a range of initiatives, social events can play an important part in rewarding employees, showing them they are valued and recognising achievements and commitment over the course of the year.
When staff feel valued, they are naturally more motivated, more engaged and more willing to go the extra mile for their employer. Social interaction also helps to build strong teams and can promote cross-team working, improving communication throughout the company.
Whilst none of us want to take all the fun out of a party, it is important to remember that employers have a duty of care for their staff during work-related events, whether they fall outside usual working hours or not.
We have all heard horror stories about Christmas party dramas, usually followed up by headaches and regrets the following day. Some incidents have even led to formal disciplinary action and claims being dealt with by the Employment Tribunal. When alcohol is involved, there’s a danger that any simmering quarrels and resentments are likely to come to the surface and things may be said that are later regretted.
Employers will want to ensure that their staff are protected from inappropriate behaviour and the company’s reputation is not put at risk.
Here are some helpful tips to avoid this party season being more of a headache than it should be:
Before the event
- Ensure your policies are up to date and set expectations around behaviour. This includes your expenses policy.
- Ensure the venue suits your needs and the access needs of your employees.
- Carry out a risk assessment in advance of the event. This will avoid anyone having to conspicuously ‘police’ health and safety on the day itself.
- Avoid the potential risk of anyone driving after drinking alcohol by setting an end time for the event, allowing employees to arrange lifts/taxis well in advance. This is particularly important if your venue is remote or not serviced by public transport, in which case you may wish to arrange transport to and from the venue for all.
- Select entertainment carefully to ensure it won’t cause offence.
- Provide food and ensure that soft drinks are freely available throughout the event.
- Underage employees should not be permitted to purchase alcohol, and others should be made aware that they are not permitted to buy on behalf of underage employees.
- Check for any allergies or dietary requirements beforehand to ensure that the event is as inclusive as possible.
- Don’t forget to invite all your employees, including those working remotely, on leave, full-time and part-time.
- Don’t make attendance compulsory. Remember that despite your efforts, not all events will appeal to all your staff, and some prefer to keep their home and work lives separate.
- Your social media policy should be clear as to your expectations around confidentiality and the use of personal social media accounts for work-related posts.
- Hold regular training sessions in Equality and Diversity and Anti-Harassment and Bullying and ensure your staff know how these relate to your values as a business.
During the event
- Avoid an unlimited free bar, consider a voucher system for alcoholic drinks.
- If you are using the event as an opportunity to present awards to staff, do not exclude those who are not attending. Awards can be given out to staff who are not present at a later date – non-attendance at a social event should not be seen as a lack of engagement or commitment to the business.
- Consider allowing employees to sit and socialise with whoever they choose at the event, rather than seeing this as an opportunity to force or encourage the resolution of any issues.
- If you see inappropriate behaviour at the event, do not allow it to continue and speak to those involved at the earliest opportunity.
- Don’t use the event as an opportunity to gossip – confidentiality doesn’t stop at the office door.
- Avoid hanging out the mistletoe.
- Avoid drunken promises of promotions or pay rises, they may be held to be binding!
Where an event is allowed to extend beyond what was planned and moves into an ‘after-party’ that can be where the real issues arise. As suggested above, sticking to a definite finish time and making the venue aware of when you expect to leave their premises can be helpful. Allocating someone with authority to assist at the end of the event can also help keep things under control and ensure your staff get home safely.
If, despite all your efforts, you are faced with a grievance as a result of a work social event, take this seriously and comply with your policies when handling it. Even though the acts may have occurred outside of work, you will need to investigate fully and ensure that you consider all available evidence in the same way as if it had occurred in the workplace.
It can be beneficial to involve an independent person to handle investigations or disciplinary matters if the people who usually handle such matters were also present at the event. Should the investigation indicate that there is a case to answer, use your disciplinary policy as a basis for handling the matter formally. Matters should be handled sensitively and confidentially and you will need to be consistent and fair in deciding on the outcomes.
Having said all the above, parties and social events remain an important part of the work calendar and provide a sense of belonging. Company-wide events can be the perfect opportunity to recognise the contribution of all your employees, some of whom you may not have been able to thank in person over recent years.