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Office holiday party dos and don'ts

Nov. 30, 2023
Make your gathering one to remember, and not the one that ends with gossip, embarrassment, or worse.

Season’s greetings! As the holiday season approaches, you may already be planning a work-sponsored party. After all, nearly everyone loves the chance to kick back and have a drink or two on the boss during the holiday season, right? Be careful, though! There is no shortage of stories about holiday parties gone terribly wrong. You may even have a few examples in mind yourself.

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From inappropriate confessions of unrequited love, to someone's spouse having a little too much spiked eggnog, to telling the doctor "you know what your problem is...", the potential for trouble is endless. So what steps can doctors and their office managers take to ensure things don't get out of hand and result in a very uncomfortable return to work? 

Here's how to proceed with caution and avoid headaches later:

Hold your holiday party off the premises. In other words, do not have the party at your office, your home, or on your personal property. When you hold it elsewhere, especially with professional servers, it reduces your risk of liability.

Consider holding your event at a hotel. If you know your parties are always "epic," consider the discounted hotel room option.

Schedule the party for a weeknight. Folks tend to party more responsibly if it's a weeknight.

Make sure you communicate that the party is not a mandatory event. Otherwise an employee could claim they should have been paid. No joke! We've seen it happen before.

Hire holiday staff. Hire a professional bartender who will not serve underage drinkers and will cut off those who've had too much. Avoid open bar scenarios and situations where people, especially underage, are mixing their own drinks. This includes the vat of spiked eggnog.

Limit alcohol. Drinking blurs ordinarily clear office boundaries. Sexual harassment complaints stemming from holiday parties are extremely common. When drinking is involved, miscommunications and misinterpretations become more frequent, which can lead to complaints. If you want to contribute to the collective bar tab, think about distributing a limited number of tickets instead of providing an open bar with a limit. This way you control the amount you provide.

Stick to wine and beer. Serving mixers makes it difficult to gauge how much alcohol people are drinking.

Make sure there are plenty of nonalcoholic choices. These should be free and unlimited!

Provide lots of food. This helps to take the focus off of just standing around and drinking.

Keep it religion-neutral. Even if your holiday spirit is of the spiritual kind, be respectful of others' religious preferences. Keep your invitations, decorations, and traditions secular. Avoid prayers at any company-sponsored events that include management. And watch the jokes about the rabbi and the priest!

Limit the length of the party. Even if the party is at a hotel, it's a good idea to limit the amount of time alcohol is served and to stop serving an hour or so before the party is scheduled to end.

Make transportation accessible. Arrange for ride-share services or taxis, and communicate beforehand that transportation is available. Be able to show you communicated this information to attendees. Also, post the phone number for a cab service in a convenient location.

Policies remain in effect. Make it clear that employees are expected to act responsibly and that workplace rules remain in effect. Also, consider making all managers (at least those who are salaried) "on duty," as far as keeping an eye on others to ensure that rides or ordered, or that concerns are dealt with by a sober person.

Finally, after looking through this list, put together the details and conditions you want to communicate to your team, and make sure that every employee gets a copy well before the event. It would also be prudent to post those details in a common break area.

Editor's note: Originally posted in 2014 and updated regularly

About the Author

Paul Edwards

PAUL EDWARDS is the CEO and founder of CEDR HR Solutions, HR Vault software, and the Facebook group, HR Base Camp. CEDR is a leading provider of on-demand HR support for dental practices of all sizes and specialties in the US. With more than 25 years of experience as a manager and business owner, Edwards is well-known throughout the dental and health-care community for his expertise helping owners and managers solve HR issues effectively.