Tears and Tinsel – Top Tips to Avoid a Messy Xmas!

It’s that time of year again – Christmas, is on the way! So chances are you have been, or will soon be going to a Christmas party with business associates, colleagues, suppliers or other professional contacts. And chances also are that something may well kick off at some point, however professional those contacts may be the rest of the year.

Don’t lose your head at the Christmas do

In my HR career I’ve dealt with the fall-out of many a Christmas do, ranging from a grievance signed by 20 staff against one person accused of making racist comments, to punch-ups, to gossip about who overdid it under the mistletoe. (As a self-employed consultant now, the office Christmas party is just me, the cat, a small Pinot and a mince pie, so that makes life a lot easier, although I’m always happy to gatecrash someone else’s – I mean, accept invitations!)

Combining people with free alcohol at a professional Christmas bash is often followed by hangovers and embarrassment – but what if the high spirits (and spirits with mixers) lead to something more than just people dropping their trousers, sitting on the photocopier and pressing the Start button?

Even out of normal working hours, people are still on company time at an official social event, and are representing their organisation in public. Anything that could bring disrepute to your company, or conduct that would be unacceptable during business hours (such as aggressive or abusive behaviour, discrimination etc.) should set the warning light to on!

Being self-employed is no barrier to being dropped like a hot mince pie either – although we have the advantage of no manager to answer to, we can easily lose both reputation and business as a result of  bad behaviour brought on by over-indulgence.

What can we do to prevent the problem arising?

If you have staff, contractors, associates etc. who may be representing you at an event, it’s fine to remind them of all this prior to any event – but you don’t want to be the pantomime villain! So try not to overreact to harmless banter or jokes, and make allowances for mitigating circumstances such as too many sweet sherries. But at the same time, don’t excuse the inexcusable or condone inappropriate behaviour! It may be more appropriate to have a quiet but firm word with the culprits on Monday morning.

Don’t forget your own behaviour

If you’re a business owner, performing the Can-Can on a table top or making a pass at the barman then passing out under the table will probably damage your professional credibility or reputation. So have fun at the party, but always remember – like Santa, you’re still at work at Christmas!

However, with the recession still in force, many businesses this year will be avoiding the problems above as a result of cost-saving and cutting back on the Christmas celebrations. Asking people to pay for the party, or even cancelling it altogether; not putting up a decorated tree; cutting back on Christmas client gifts; these are all difficult decisions facing cash-strapped businesses at the moment. The risk is in how these cuts will affect the motivation and goodwill of the people who help you meet your targets – will everyone be so disgruntled that the drop in business, productivity or morale offsets the savings in festivities?

Avoid an outbreak of ‘Bah Humbug’

Business owners should be honest with people and make sure they realise that their staff and contractors are still valued and appreciated, even if Santa can’t be quite so generous this year. Try sending your contacts and clients free Christmas e-cards instead of the usual ‘hard copies’ – they’re environmentally friendly and it saves a fortune in postage too! Don’t forget the impact of small but sincere gestures for your staff – mulled wine and mince pies all round, a bit of tinsel round the PC screen, token gifts, an early finish in the afternoon, to demonstrate that everyone’s contributions and business are not only recognised, but appreciated more than ever in this economically harsh winter!

Should Secret Santa get the sack?

Many business owners still do the Secret Santa at Christmas; everyone draws names out of a hat and buys an anonymous gift for that person, up to a price limit. But often these schemes are problematic with people not wanting to get involved, feeling under pressure to get gifts; not knowing what to buy or being unhappy with their pressie.

If you’re considering doing this with your staff check with them first – is everyone OK with it? Make it possible for people to opt-out without being seen as Scrooge. Set a price limit that everyone is comfortable with. And offer alternatives, maybe everyone would rather donate the amount to a kitty and get food and drinks with it, or donate it to a favourite charity. But If Santa is sacred within your business, see http://www.gaj-it.com/4005/top-ten-secret-santa-gifts-for-under-a-fiver/ for some fun stocking-filler ideas. Times are tough but Christmas is still the season to be jolly, even on a budget!


Tara Daynes

Tara Daynes FCIPD, MSSP, is a fully qualified freelance HR and training consultant with 16 years’ post-graduate experience. She is a qualified Employment Law Paralegal & a registered Investors In People adviser/assessor. Specialising in employment law & business training, Tara helps organisations improve their business performance through how they manage & develop their staff. This includes start-up HR functions for SMEs, writing people management policies and procedures and staff handbooks, and providing training for line management and staff on key issues. Email taradaynes@gmail.com or visit www.taradayneshr.com for more information. Connect with Tara at Linked In, Tweet her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook

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