Five Christmas Workplace Woes!

Whilst we are all gearing up for the big day, Christmas can sometimes bring unplanned pitfalls and challenges to our business.

So what are they and how should we react?

1. Unauthorised absence/party “sickies”

It’s fair to say that with a fuller social calendar than normal, there is greater temptation to pull a Party “sickie”, especially for those of us whose holiday year is ending, limiting the opportunity for authorised time off.

Your approach to this issue will depend on your business, your flexibility and your attitude towards the party season.

Perhaps you may make it easier for your staff to balance their personal and professional lives by agreeing to occasional home or flexible working.

Where your industry doesn’t allow for this, try incentivizing staff to keep engaged and in attendance through fun work activities, free lunches and Christmas bonuses.

And then, for those Scrooges amongst us, you could just remind staff that nothing changes and you expect them in on time and as normal throughout the part season, applying your usual lateness and absence management policies if anyone doesn’t toe the line!

2. Weather problems

A white Christmas may seem unlikely but January and February often come in with a bang and there is every chance that at some point your employees will experience traffic, transport or weather issues affecting their commute.

If you’ve not already done so, communicate your policy and expectations when it comes to adverse weather so staff are clear on what their options are.

This could include whether home working would be authorised, whether holidays can be taken at short notice or whether unpaid leave will be granted.

3. Secret Santa

Secret Santa seems to have become a bit of a tradition within many UK workplaces but what happens when things go a bit too far and that joke or banter gift causes real offence?

It’s been known for employees to raise formal grievances following receipt of an offensive or upsetting gift or even resigning and claiming constructive dismissal.

Employers can be held liable if an employee receives an inappropriate Secret Santa present so it’s strongly recommended to set some parameters for the gift giving scheme so everyone understands where the line is drawn.

Whilst not wanting to dampen the party spirit, communicate to your teams to avoid gifts that:

  • could be discriminatory to race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.
  • are of a sexual or rude nature.
  • relate to personal hygiene or physical appearance.

Basically gifts must be appropriate for the workplace so if you have to question whether it is, then it probably isn’t!

4. Christmas gifts

Many suppliers and customers gift sundries at Christmas such as wine and chocolates as a thank you for support during the year.

It’s best to have a policy or “norm” in how you are going to manage this to ensure fairness amongst your team.

Many businesses collect gifts and hold a raffle to ensure that all staff benefit from the generosity, not just those staff in customer or supplier facing roles.

Make sure you take into account any religious implications in the allocation of gifts.

It is also worth reminding staff of the implications of your bribery policy so they understand what an acceptable gift is and that all gifts should be declared and shared to celebrate your team effort.

5. The Christmas party

Whilst fun and festive, as the alcohol flows, inhibitions fall and the risk of someone doing or saying something inappropriate increases.

From embarrassing photos posted on social media to drunken fights and allegations of sexual harassment, the office Christmas party presents a myriad of HR challenges.

To make sure everything goes smoothly, you should be clear about your behaviour expectations.

Send out an email or memo pre event to set out your expectations on professional behaviour and remind staff that whilst this is a social “do” it is a company event and your usual standards of workplace behaviour apply.

A reminder of your bullying and harassment and social media policies is essential and to prevent other issues make sure that you consider all your responsibilities to your staff.

It’s important to ensure the event is inclusive to all so should your event centre entirely on alcohol?

Whilst many of us like a festive tipple, be sure to provide non-alcoholic drinks, plenty of water and menu options that cater to all dietary requirements.

You might want to consider designating a senior person to limit their alcohol intake on the event to have someone fairly compos mentis throughout the occasion and to help with any overindulgence, behaviour issues and even transport home.

But remember, HR is about striking a balance.

We don’t want to be fully “Baa humbug!”

We want our teams to enjoy the festive spirit during December whilst maintaining that professionalism.

We can only do that with clear communication of standards and expectations (and a small sherry and a mince pie!)

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