How to step safely through the festive season minefield

by HCA02 Dec 2016
December and January can be an exciting time in many offices. For some managers, however, it can be an especially challenging time thanks to problematic issues arising at staff or client Christmas parties.   
It’s common for my team and I to talk to leaders in the New Year who are already bogged down dealing with the serious consequences of unfortunate events at festive season celebrations. 
The issues we see range from the comical to tragic. Damaged property and relationships, bruised egos and physical injury, ruined reputations and careers are all among the consequences of Christmas parties gone wrong.  
Getting any team through the festive season unscathed takes everyone doing their part; both leaders and staff.
What leaders can do:
Set firm boundaries
Be clear about how you expect people to behave at any time of the year including at work sponsored Christmas events. Expect people to conduct themselves in ways that ensure their own and other people’s safety; not only when at work but also while socializing with clients or colleagues. Hold people accountable to professional standards of conduct and be especially sure that leaders provide a good example. 
Serve alcohol responsibly
While it’s fine to be generous limit the amount of alcohol you make freely available.  If you choose to serve alcohol then provide food also. Assign responsibility for monitoring how much people are drinking to members of the leadership team. Expect that action be taken to stop serving alcohol to those who have already had enough. Ensure inebriated team members are able to get home safely.
Educate and communicate
Take the time to speak to people about the inherent dangers of work social activities, especially at this time of year. Encourage people to be mindful of the impact the festive spirit can have on their judgment and choices when it comes to drinking and taking risks.  Educate every member of your team of the things they can do to keep themselves and others around them safe.   
What everyone can do:
Keep your wits about you
Relax and enjoy the event but drink alcohol in moderation. Keep in mind that it’s not only important to protect your reputation but also your wellbeing. Make sure you are aware of what is going on around you and are able to make sensible judgment calls. If you are slurring your words and saying things you ordinarily wouldn’t choose to, things have gone too far for a work function.
Look out for your mates
While most of us don’t enjoy being the ‘fun police’ sometimes people need to be saved from themselves.  Keep an eye on the people you are celebrating with and step in if their drinking or behaviour is becoming a problem. Nipping issues in the bud can save a lot of heartache down the track.  To the extent possible, don’t allow people to put either themselves or others in harm’s way. 
Contribute to a great time
Get into the festive spirit and turn up to events with the intention of having a positive impact on your environment.  Don’t be the person to wake up the day after the party and realise you ruined it for everyone else.  Keep your behaviour appropriate for the setting and type of function.  Choosing to get the dancing started at what is intended to be a cocktail party may not be seen as such a great move at it may feel in the moment.

Karen Gately is a leadership and people-management specialist and a founder of Ryan Gately

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