office Christmas party

It’s that time of year again. The office is transformed into a winter wonderland, you can’t move for mince pies, and those same old festive songs slowly start to drive you mad. But despite being the season of goodwill and high spirits, December can sometimes feel like the season of ill will for HR departments.

To help you through the holiday season, Dawn Brown HR expert at leading HR and Payroll provider MHR explores some of the key issues facing HR professionals over the festive period and what you can do to prevent them.

Unauthorised absences

According to a recent survey by the BBC, two out of five employees would pull a sickie if they wanted an extra day off work. In the weeks leading up to the festive break, when the social calendar is fuller than ever, the temptation to dodge work can be greater than normal. This problem is exacerbated if employees have already used up their annual holiday entitlement.

So how do you manage unplanned absence during December? While there’s no sure-fire way to avoid missed days, you can make it easier for your employees to balance their professional and personal lives by allowing flexible or remote working where possible.

In service or customer-facing industries, where remote working isn’t an option, you’ll need to think of ways to ensure that enough of your team are on hand each shift. This may involve taking on temporary seasonal workers, or incentivising permanent employees during the busy winter months through Christmas bonuses, free lunches, or other such perks.

To avoid situations where people run out of holidays, the best approach is to give them access to their holiday-related data through self-service. This way, employees can check their remaining holiday allowance and book leave themselves, allowing them to plan time off more effectively.

Low productivity

As the holidays approach, people naturally take their foot off the pedal. Then there’s all the non-work activities that come with the time of year – Christmas lunches, decorating the office, secret Santa, and so on. Unsurprisingly, productivity can take a serious hit in December. But is this unavoidable?

Well, yes and no. To some extent, you have to allow your people to enjoy the festivities. Denying them the chance to get festive in an attempt to boost productivity would only backfire, leading to low morale. But on the other hand, your employees need to know that work doesn’t stop during advent.

Perhaps the best way to ensure that your employees find the right balance between enjoying the time of year and getting stuff done is to focus on engagement. Productivity and engagement are closely linked. The more engaged your people are, the more they will enjoy coming to work each day, and the more motivated they will be to make a positive contribution. Put simply, you should do everything you can to make your people feel supported, motivated, and engaged.

People managers have a key role to play here. By having regular conversations around progress, goals, and personal happiness, they can help employees stay on track with their work regardless of the time of year.

Harassment and bullying

The office Christmas party can be a great laugh, but it can also be a potential HR minefield. As the alcohol flows and people’s inhibitions drop, the risk of someone doing or saying something inappropriate skyrockets.

There are a few measures you can take to ensure the party goes smoothly and without incident. The first is to have a clear policy on harassment and bullying, and ensure that every employee is familiar with it. This policy must set out what constitutes harassment and bullying, the procedure for reporting an incident, and the consequences of committing an offence. Prior to the party, make sure every employee is made aware that as well as having fun, they are expected to act responsibly.

It is also critical that people managers receive the appropriate training to deal with these difficult situations – not only from a procedural perspective, but also from a human one. Like it or not, this type of training is a necessity – according to a recent BBC survey, 53% of women and 20% of men have experienced sexual harassment at work.

Health and safety

The office party is not only problematic from a behavioural perspective, but also from a health and safety one. The combination of office equipment, electronics, and alcohol is a potential recipe for disaster.

To avoid injury or broken equipment, make sure you clear the space where the party will take place of all office equipment, devices, and cables. And make sure those larger pieces of equipment are unplugged or removed entirely – especially the photocopier!

If it simply isn’t possible to make the office space party-worthy, or if your party is planned on a work night, perhaps the best option is to hire a suitable off-site venue.

Ambiguous expenses claims

With drinks, taxis, and in some cases accommodation, Christmas parties can be expensive! If there’s ambiguity around who is covering what, you may find yourself looking at some rather dubious expense claims.

To avoid any confusion, be clear with your people about what’s covered by the company and what they are expected to pay for. And make sure managers, or those responsible for authorising expense claims, pay extra attention during the Christmas period!

Strike a balance

Let’s be honest, the holidays can be a challenging time for businesses – and particularly for HR. But most of the issues associated with the festive season can be mitigated or fixed altogether if you have a clear strategy in place.

The goal for HR is to strike the right balance. You want employees to enjoy the seasonal spirit at work, but you also need them to maintain the required level of professionalism. A lot of this boils down to simple communication about what’s expected.

Here’s to a happy, hassle-free Christmas. Cheers!