Whether we’ve heard the stories told to us in real life or watched the narrative unfold on the silver screen in any of a hundred movies, the question of “what did I do at last night’s office holiday party” is a tale as old as the workplace itself. However, as skyrocketing numbers of harassment claims and the ideals of office equality take us out of the world of Don Draper and Mad Men and into present day living, the consequences of having to ask this question have become vastly more severe. At best, the employee will find themselves in a manager’s office having a very serious conversation with HR. At worst, however, they can be shown the door while also ending up on the receiving end of a harassment lawsuit.
Newsweek reports that companies are starting to cut back on office holiday festivities. And, those that are still throwing celebrations for their employees are doing so with far less alcohol available. According to a survey conducted of 150 HR departments across the US, while less than 10 percent of workplaces failed to provide a way for office workers to ring in the holidays together last year, this year has seen a four percent increase to 11.3.
Less than half of those that are throwing parties will be providing alcohol. The same report states that 48.7 percent of office holiday parties will provide alcohol this year while 62 percent had drinking at last year’s events.
The near-daily news releases of powerful figures being accused of sexual harassment of some sort certainly bears some degree of responsibility. Now dubbed the “Weinstein effect,” the impetus of the #MeToo social media campaign has given significant long-term attention to the issue of workplace harassment. And company leaders don’t want to see their businesses become the next headline.
Still, for those that are throwing parties, experts and consultants are weighing in with tips that try to ensure that employees can still relax and celebrate with one another while also keeping control of their faculties. And it’s no surprise that limiting the availability of alcohol is on every list. Some companies have done away with imbibing altogether while others have traded the open bar for a two-drink maximum.
Other tips, which could easily be mistaken for the chaperone’s manual at a middle school dance, include monitoring employee behavior and ensuring that co-workers aren’t dancing too closely together. When such behavior is present, employers are encouraged to respond at that time, rather than waiting until the next business day to deal with the infraction.
As employers work to walk the line between providing for social interaction among employees and protecting themselves and the company from harassment claims, employees must also remember that regardless of what the latest holiday movie script tells them, their holiday party is still a company event – and that means that company rules (including harassment policies) are in full effect.