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Nov 22, 2013

With the holiday season really kicking off next week, so will the deluge of stories, articles and blog posts about the perils of the annual workplace holiday party.

I think these kind of events were always difficult to deal with, but they have become even more so in the Age of Social Media (where everything seems to eventually end up on Facebook), and during an era that is both over-the-top politically correct and incredibly litigious.

As attorney Patti Weisberg wrote here on TLNT last year:

Employer-sponsored holiday parties can, of course, present a number of risks when alcoholic beverages are served. Aside from the embarrassment an employer may face if party exploits are broadcast via Facebook, YouTube or other social media channels, issues of harassment and liability may also arise as a result of these events.

With inhibitions relaxed, some employees may engage in conduct which they might not otherwise pursue, leading to overly friendly or aggressive behavior. … In short, employers should be cognizant that holiday office parties can be opportune occasions for sexual harassment incidents to occur.”

Yes, boorish behavior and bad decision-making seem to get magnified in today’s world, often well beyond the original slight, and many companies have simply opted to kill the company party rather than put up with the potential issues that can flow out of one.

What employees think of holiday parties

That’s why I always find it interesting when I get a survey about holiday parties and the reactions of employees about them, as I did this week with this research from Public Policy Polling. Here are the highlights.

  • A majority of employers (71 percent) usually offer holiday parties, but a substantial 29 percent of employers don’t offer a holiday party at all.
  • Some 40 percent of companies make holiday parties employees only, while 33 percent allow employees to bring a guest, and 28 percent invite families.
  • Alcohol is served at only 46 percent of parties, with 54 percent of employers saying that they never allow it.
  • Of those that allow alcohol at holiday parties, 39 percent have policies or rules related to alcohol use and consumption.
  • Only 23 percent report that there is an expectation that everyone attend a company party, and 17 percent say that it negatively reflects on them if they don’t show up.
  • One in four (26 percent) of employees say they have seen a co-worker act inappropriately at a holiday party, but only 4 percent report that they know of someone who was disciplined or fired as a result of their party behavior.
  • And, 10 percent of those surveyed said they regretted something they once said or did at a holiday party.

“Be careful out there”

“Holiday parties are intended to celebrate and support employees for their hard work, but employers need to keep in mind that safety and liability are legitimate concerns here,” says Dean Debnam, chief executive officer at Workplace Options,in a press release about the survey.

Debnam says “employers can encourage a good, yet safe time by making conservative choices about alcohol. It’s also important to set expectations for behavior by reminding employees that it is still a work function, where behavior is being observed.”

I know we’ll have more good TLNT advice about the potential perils of holiday parties in the next few weeks, but until then, just remember these words of wisdom you can apply to holiday parties, taken from a great TV show of the past — “let’s be careful out there.

Fired, and complaining, for having sex on the job

Of course, there’s more than the latest survey about office holiday parties in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Handling ethical issues on the job. Everybody has a different ethical compass, and that means that everyone handles ethical issues in the workplace differently, as this Bloomberg Businessweek story points out. “We all have an inner guide that knows the right thing to do. We just don’t always follow it. For some employees, the ability to act ethically is strong and feels very natural; others need practice sharpening their ethical sense and learning how to apply it better in real-life situations.”
  • What do inexperienced managers get wrong? According to this HBR blog, it’s the choice between leadership and management. It says, in part, “Much has been made of the distinction between leadership and management. Too many managers, not enough leaders, the critics say. Leadership is uplifting, they imply, while management is boring — just a bunch of rigid bureaucrats spinning red tape, or emphasizing efficiency over effectiveness. But my work with numerous top executives shows that this is a false choice. Great leaders also have managerial inclinations. They are practical as well as visionary. They care about efficiency. They might not be the ones to roll up their sleeves for the tasks of execution, but they know what to ask of those who do. These abilities grow with experience.”
  • Complaining for being fired for having sex on the job. This is a story that has to be read to be believed. According to this Des Moines Register story published in USA Today, “A schoolteacher who was forced to resign after being videotaped having sex with a colleague in a classroom closet said the encounters were on his personal time and he was entitled to collect unemployment benefits. An Iowa judge has ruled otherwise and denied the teacher benefits, citing his “willful” workplace misconduct. The ruling became public earlier this year.”
  • The challenges of following an incompetent manager. As this great HBR blog post points out, “Becoming the leader of an existing team can be challenging, but taking over from an incompetent leader is more difficult. Incompetent leaders are not only ineffective at achieving the team’s goals. They think and act in ways that detract from and undermine the team’s performance, working relationships, and well-being. Consequently, in addition to forging agreement on the normal issues of mission, goals, and roles, incoming leaders often find their new team in disarray, dealing with conflict and stress. Building a stronger team means addressing these emotionally laden issues.”
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