Christmas Party Disasters and How To Avoid Them

Posted on 8th November 2016

I started my working life in 1976. Yes that is a long time ago, and it was a very different time in many ways… clothes, music, and of course attitudes when it came down to what was or was not acceptable at the Christmas Party.

I managed to experience the pitfalls of the Christmas party early on, when as a very naïve 17 year old, I attended the party held in the office and after a few drinks, I was lucky enough to steal a long kiss from one of the young women who also worked in the office. Unfortunately, someone with a good quality camera manged to capture this moment and when developed, placed these photos around the site causing embarrassment to myself and the woman involved. A lesson learnt as they say.

At a different work place, a large well known manufacturing company, it was the tradition over many years for the works employees to have a large party, normally in one of the nightclubs in town. Perhaps inevitably, this often ended up in a mass brawl spilling onto the streets with bumps, bruises, arrests etc. In one case, one guy decided it would be a good idea to sleep in his van as he had driven there. Trouble was he decided to drive home instead and thankfully only got prosecuted for drunk driving and didn’t hurt anyone else. The parties were stopped.

At a mail order company I worked at, the tradition was to give all employees a frozen chicken for Christmas (us managers got turkeys because that’s how we rolled then), on the last day of work. The trouble was that many of the staff, rather than taking them home would leave work with the frozen chicken and head into town and the pubs. We started to get complaints from landlords and the police as the chickens were often left in the pubs to defrost, or were used as weapons in fights in the town. A frozen chicken can be quite a weapon believe me. In HR we managed to persuade the business to stop the practice and replace the chickens with shopping vouchers (we still got our turkeys though).

Over the years I have dealt with complaints of inappropriate behaviour; marriage breakups because of what has happened at the party; and employees telling their boss exactly what they thought of them and what they could do with their job, only to recant at leisure later. Christmas can be a great time for all if handled properly and HR can have a role in that, without being seen as a kill joy. So what can be done?

Set out your expectations – Remember that the Christmas Party is an extension of the workplace and although people are more relaxed and there may be some alcohol around, that doesn’t excuse poor behaviour, and it doesn’t limit your liability if someone decides to go to an Employment Tribunal because of that poor behaviour. That doesn’t mean to say that you issue a 20 page document with a list of what not to do that everyone signs up to. I’m not a huge believer in such things; but setting out your expectations in a clear and considerate way is important, by briefing, or email or whatever you feel is most appropriate.

Watch the alcohol – Most issues at Christmas parties stem from alcohol. If you are providing any, limit it to a certain amount then people have to buy their own. Have someone or more than one person, who isn’t drinking who can intervene with a quiet word if things look like they are getting out of hand. Think about how people are getting home, can you provide transport or taxis?

Be careful about mistletoe abuse – Mistletoe can be a lovely thing in the right place and work may not be it. Again, being upfront about what is acceptable and what is not is key. If inappropriate behaviour is seen or reported, act quickly at the time and deal with it later.

Switch the photocopier off! – I know it’s a cliché, but I have seen the images a photocopier can produce of various body parts and believe me, they are not pretty. Not only that, they can be used to bully, intimidate, humiliate and embarrass people which is not good.

Remember, not everybody likes to party – If someone chooses not to join in all the general merriment, it is their right to do so. They are not weird or strange, and should not have the micky taken out of them; they might be shy, not like parties, or have health, religious or other grounds for not drinking – please respect them and encourage everyone to do so.

If there is a problem – Deal with it at the appropriate time as soon as you can, as you would any other incident of a similar nature that happens outside of the Christmas period. Just because it happens at Christmas is not an excuse not to do anything.

Finally – Above all else do not give away frozen chickens.

If you find yourself mopping up (literally or figuratively) after a Christmas party disaster, and you need some HR advice on how to handle any problems, then give us a call – 01536 215240.

Best wishes,



Emma Wynne Character
Written by:
Emma Wynne
Managing Director