I love this time of year – you can feel Christmas is getting closer, the office fun is beginning and everyone’s looking forward to celebrating the end of another year.
However, it’s also around this time ever year that an HR blog like this one slips into my inbox to remind me of my ‘business owner responsibilities’.
This year’s email was a real cracker:
“In the run-up to Christmas, most people look forward to enjoying a drink with colleagues and celebrating the festive season. Often though, alcohol and work can prove an unhealthy mix, and a booze-fuelled party can easily lead to personal injury… for which the employer can be held responsible – or vicariously liable.”
If the idea of being held responsible for your recruiters’ boozy Christmas antics has sent your head into a spin, don’t worry. I suppose as long as you can demonstrate you’ve taken the appropriate steps to prevent any legal case getting lodged, you’re ahead of the game, right?
Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned in my 16-odd years of organising recruitment office Christmas parties...
Don’t organise it
A good thing to remember is this: The kind of party you enjoy is probably not going to be the sort of party your employees enjoy.
I learned this the hard way – one year, I treated everyone to a 5-star champagne dinner, we were wined and dined and everyone was home for 11pm. My idea of the perfect night out, but for them… not really the wild night out they were looking for!
Chances of personal injury or any form of disaster were really low, but this was just because everyone felt too awkward to breathe in the restaurant!
And anyway, you’re far too busy to be organising a piss-up, so elect someone as your Christmas party organiser so you can pass on the responsibility to someone else.
Don’t start too early
Another one I learned the hard way! If you’re spending money putting on a lovely Christmas spread for your recruiters, it makes sense to at least try and get everyone to the restaurant.
A few drinks in the office before you leave is all part of the fun, but it’s a good idea to make sure there are some activities to break up the hardcore drinking and ensure your staff actually make it to the party.
Despite my own advice here, we’re actually starting earlier this year but that’s because our awesome Head of Happiness has lots planned for the Fishies, and she of course sent out that all-important internal email …
“Please make sure you eat a sufficient lunch! We’re starting a little earlier this year, so don’t peak too soon…and I’m now going to stop being your mum. 🤭"
Have an eye on the seating plan
A large chunk of your Christmas party is likely to involve everyone sitting in a restaurant, so who sits next to who can be a bit of a delicate operation that can have a big impact on how the night pans out!
Without going as far as splitting everyone up, just keep an eye out for any of your recruiters that you think shouldn’t be sitting together.
For example, the clumsy ones who have a habit of spilling food or knocking over drinks on colleagues who aren’t likely to take it very well and retaliate… you know the ones.
This can also be a nice opportunity to pull your more introverted team members out of their shells by sitting them next to the right people, so think carefully and let your seating master plan make (or break) the evening.
Just make sure you’re at the table first so you can make your excuses to split people up. If you’re too late and you arrive to see a disaster waiting to happen – squash yourself in between!
Stay sober enough to clean up the mess
Now, hopefully I don’t have to mean this literally … but one thing you are going to have to be sober enough to do is pay the bill at the end of the night. This is why, as the sort-of-meant-to-be person in control, you can never really let your hair down.
If you’ve had a good year, you’ll find people wanting to tell you they love you and if you’ve had a bad year for some reason, 11pm in the pub is definitely the time that you get cornered with all the things the business could be doing better. Either way, you want to stay sober enough to react appropriately!
I’ll also always make sure that when someone needs a little helping hand to get in a taxi home, I’m there to help them (admittedly, sometimes slightly against their will if they’re having a bit too much fun!).
Get everyone to sign a waiver
If you can sign your life away before you bungee jump off a bridge or claim no company liability when you take your team on a high-risk activity (go carting – really??) then surely we can do the same for office Christmas parties!
The obvious solution here would be to go back to these HR companies and get then to draft you up a waiver that excludes you from any liability for any broken bones during the night out.
Just kidding - have fun, enjoy the festive season and wish me good luck with mine!
Small print: We accept no liability for any of the above advice and remember, we are not lawyers!
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Wendy McDougall is Chief Fish of Firefish Software. In her spare time, you'll find her playing squash or feeding her inner geek with the latest technology!