The Alternative Christmas Party – GUEST BLOG

The flow of emails about Christmas parties starts in the middle of October and probably reaches its peak by the end of November. Some will come from HR consultants, others from law firms and others from membership organisations. Some will be from organisations I know and others, probably the majority, will be completely unknown to me. But, the one thing that they will have in common is content that warns me of the perils of hosting a staff Christmas party.

What is the correct term?

Oh! Darn it. I just fell foul of one of the rules. I used the name Christmas party, which of course it isn’t. Whilst TV channels change their schedules to accommodate Christmas specials and the shops are full of special Christmas gift sets, employers are advised to ignore all of this. Instead they invite employees to an end of year party, a mid-winter party or some other sort of politically correct name.

Once you have agreed what you are going to call your staff gathering you will then have to deal with the tricky subject of alcohol.

Alcohol or no alcohol – that is the question!

There seems to be a rule that if you put a group of people who work together in a room with some alcohol it will just be a matter of time before the gathering degenerates into inappropriate behaviour. This will then result in either keeping the HR department busy throughout Dry January with disciplinary action or employees off work attending court.

If only employees were as eager to share their views in official engagement surveys as they are when they are at the annual Christmas party!

Although the number of people who are foregoing alcohol and becoming teetotal is on the rise, and the group most likely not to drink are the Millennials that we all struggle to work out how to manage.

It is surprising that each year employers continue to arrange staff entertainment around activities that provide opportunities to consume large quantities of alcohol. But those activities create the problems that all of those emails predict are the inevitable outcome, and yet all the evidence suggests is not actually what people are doing when they are free to select their own entertainment!

What are the alternatives?

There must be a range of other activities that enable employers to say thank you to their staff for a year of hard work and for people to also let their hair down a bit and see a non-work side of their colleagues as well. There’s chocolate tasting, indoor golf, go-carting, climbing walls, pantomime trips or escape rooms all in the Leeds area which are fantastic for team building.

These events don’t exclude the opportunity to consume alcohol they just limit the time and consequently the quantity of alcohol that people drink. For some people the drinking will start as soon as the working day ends, with the last drink being consumed in the early hours of the morning.

Including an activity in the evening also provides people with something to talk about that isn’t work related.

If we are honest most of us probably have a tale to tell about the morning after the night before, and the apologies that had to be made for unruly or inappropriate behaviour. Replacing the alcohol with an activity creates the opportunity to have more positive memories, which can be retold without embarrassment. No one wants to host an event that people remember for the wrong reasons, but unless we apply some imagination to the type of events we organise for employees we will not be able to remove that risk.


Guest Blog by Michael Millward

During a career as a human resources and employee development professional that started in 1981, Michael Millward has worked around the world in a wide range of businesses from start-ups to major conglomerates. His industry experience includes local and national government, manufacturing, financial services, retail, distribution, hi-tech and e-commerce.