I hear that many parents say once their children graduate they feel a little more relaxed about the excesses of life, in relation to their children. As parents, we feel that they are old enough to have managed some of the temptations that life throws at us all, and we breathe a sigh of relief.
However, as we move into the workplace, there are different hazards of excess. There is not a Christmas period that goes by where we do not get asked for advice about how to deal with some misdemeanour, where an individual treads over the line at a Christmas party or gathering, and an employer has no choice but to take what is, usually, disciplinary action. Sadly many dismissals take place at the year end, which are often avoidable and unnecessary but which an employer has no choice but to implement, because the breach is serious.
While the HR function is not a parental one, it’s always good to warn about the consequences of misguided behaviour and the sanctions that an employer can take, if employees step the wrong side of the line. The kind of warnings appropriate for Christmas are as follows:
1) The first one we always think of is the one relating to alcohol and it is important not to lose control, as aside from the obvious embarrassment that can arise, employees can also break the rules in the disciplinary procedure. This would apply to consumption of excess drink or taking drugs which are a) illegal and b) remove inhibitions resulting in breaches.
2) The second is to make sure there is no breach of any sexual harassment legislation. I have seen several directors tread the wrong side of the line, resulting in the end of a very successful career in an organisation, often with long term consequences in the rest of their life. Unwanted attention is all a matter of what the individual on the receiving end thinks. Whilst an individual may not ever have intended to harass somebody, if the attention is unwanted, then the recipient could call that harassment.
3) The same rules apply to social media as apply to colleagues at an office party; your employer is paying for the event, and it is unwise to criticise the organisation or colleagues, not to mention possible reporting of this on social media (libel) or verbal criticism (slander).
4) Remember, too, that you have signed a contract of employment that runs alongside the psychological contract. You may not realise it, but you hold many company secrets, and they should be kept secret. In a social context, sometimes our guard can be lowered, and indiscretion can inadvertently follow. I love the definition that ‘a secret is something you tell one person at a time’, but it does not apply in this context and you must remain vigilant and thoughtful about what you say and to whom.
5) Overall, just remember not to make a fool of yourself by indulging in excess. I have seen one or two embarrassing moments in the art of Karaoke; if it is not an art for you, then you may regret your performance in the cold light of day.
6) One thing I observed recently, following a party, was the failure of an individual to come into work the next day. It’s always advisable to make sure you attend work after a party, and that you come in on time. Others will have managed it, and if you don’t, you may be taken to task more seriously than you realise.
7) I think we’ve all been there when we’ve bundled somebody into a taxi who was semi-conscious. It is always better to avoid being the person that needs that attention and it saves your colleagues a lot of worry.
Of course, there are many positive elements to do with a Christmas party – hopefully a lovely restaurant, some great music and spending time with people whom you like. It’s a perfect time to socialise and network in a way that perhaps you don’t normally have time for. Just ensure that you wake up the next day with the happy glow of a good time, rather than the sickening feeling about what you may have said or done…