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Navigating the Holiday Season Minefield with Your Workforce: 6 Essential Tips for Employers

Published by on December 1, 2015

With the holiday season in full swing, it’s important for employers to follow these six strategies for ensuring a positive and trouble-free holiday period for their workforce.

As your company enters the holiday season, it’s important for human resource team members, general counsel and the corporate management to be aware of essential issues that should be addressed proactively to ensure a positive holiday period.

The last thing your leadership team will want to confront as employees celebrate the holidays and management prepares for year-end is a problem associated with employee behavior or conduct. That’s why it’s essential to be clear and proactive about addressing potential pitfalls during the holidays.

Here are six essential tips that employers should plan around to ensure a healthy, happy workforce when entering the holiday period each year:

Tip #1: Clearly define your alcohol policies.

If you aren’t comfortable eliminating alcohol entirely at company holiday parties, consider some other strategies such as having a cash bar; imposing a ticket-based limit on drinks per person at company functions; or changing the time of your event(s) to an earlier point in the day (lunchtime or afternoon, for example, rather than evening).

In addition, always make sure you cut off the alcohol well in advance of the end of the party – and provide desserts and coffee to reduce the possibility that people have been drinking without food and non-alcoholic beverages available at the same time.

Tip #2: Communicate regarding appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

Obviously, in almost every workplace the potential for business relationships to become personal always exists. But mixing alcohol, seasonal parties and a bit of the ‘holiday spirit’ can be a recipe for unwanted advances, inappropriate contact or worse.

Make sure that your event(s) do not include activities that might encourage or provide a forum for this to unfold (a good example to ban is “mistletoe spots” or other situations that force-imply romantic or personal interest between two parties).

Tip #3: Brief your executives on conduct considerations.

Consider providing a briefing for the entire executive team reminding them that their behavior is the model by which others follow, reiterating what kinds of behavior are acceptable and unacceptable as well.

In addition, work with your human resources department and internal communications teams to distribute an employee conduct reminder to all personnel, or have department heads brief their teams. This may seem like ‘buzz-kill’ but then again, that’s precisely the point. Better to kill the buzz a bit rather than risk a raging inferno of miscommunication, allegations and potential misconduct.

Tip #4: Carefully choreograph seasonal drama and presentations.

Many company holiday parties have historically included skits or shows highlighting (and often mocking) the best and worst moments of the year. Just remember that those can quickly turn into disrespectful or discriminatory episodes about religion, race, gender, marital status, pregnancy and more that can lead to direct legal consequences.

Do not allow your team, directly or indirectly, to turn a fun-filled farce into an insulting and discriminatory display of bias or disrespect for certain employees or their faith, ethnicity or life experiences.

Tip #5: Celebrate religious observances, but tread carefully about religious assumptions.

Companies can celebrate holiday events but it is ill-advised to allow anyone, even your CEO, to turn them into direct religious observances that involve prayer or specific actions or statements that suggest fealty to a specific faith tradition or theology.

Employees’ personal lives — including if and where they go to church, what belief(s) they may practice and so forth — are not things you should make assumptions about or directly preach to them on.

Tip #6: Consider compensation when planning holiday functions.

Keep in mind that if you require employees to attend an annual holiday party (whether you directly state so or make it ‘functionally’ mandatory by, for example, only handing out bonuses at the event), then your employees must be compensated because it is an official company function that you are making a necessary part of their job. To avoid confusion in this area, make attendance optional and invite, don’t demand, their presence.

Welter Insight:

The one thing more important than a memorable party is a morning after with no regrets – for you, your executives or your employees. Make sure everyone has a good time within reasonable boundaries by setting the example and following through on it every step of the way. In doing so, you will help make sure that the entire company has a safe and successful holiday season.

Image Credit: cliff (Flickr @ Creative Commons)


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