HR Institute calls for employers to ditch ‘Christmas’ from end-of-year party to be more inclusive
That’s one of a number of tips from the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI), which is calling on company leaders to ensure end-of-year celebrations are “safe and inclusive” so “everybody can enjoy” the party.
After two years of lockdowns and Covid restrictions “end-of-year events are certainly back on the agenda”, said AHRI chief executive Sarah McCann-Bartlett.
“We need to remember that even if it is being held off-site, it’s an extension of the workplace, and therefore employers have an obligation to make sure their workplace is safe and inclusive.”
In addition to reminding employees of company policies around sexual harassment, excessive alcohol or drug consumption, AHRI’s list also urges companies to “ensure your party is inclusive by taking the diversity of your employees into consideration”.
“Instead of theming the event around Christmas, position it as an end-of-year celebration,” it reads.
What should it be called?
Office Christmas party
Ms McCann-Bartlett said that did “not necessarily” mean ditching the Santa hats.
“But what I’m saying is think of everybody who’s going to be attending and not just make it all about Christmas,” she said.
“We have an increasingly diverse society and a diverse workforce and there are other religious celebrations that happen at this time of year. And it is really important that those who have other religions, celebrate in different ways or who aren’t religious at all feel included,” she said.
“A really easy way to do that is to theme it around, ‘It’s the end of the year, look what a great job we’ve done’ – really looking forward to the following year.”
AHRI’s list also recommends companies “have a social committee that represents a range of people in the workplace and captures diverse thoughts and ideas” to plan events.
“It’s great when you have a diverse social committee, whether it’s types of roles, location, age, gender or ethnicity,” Ms McCann-Bartlett said.
For example, a social committee may put on a Diwali event, she said, or could help come up with a theme for the end-of-year party.
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Is it time to ditch ‘Christmas’ from the office Christmas party? Picture: iStock
“You might theme your end-of-year event around what happens around the world at this time of year,” she said.
“As a simple example, for our end-of-year event one activity is going to be, ‘guess whose house the decorations are from’. So that won’t just be Christmas decorations, because we’re coming up to Hanukkah.”
AHRI said with the recent passage of the “Respect at Work” bill, employers now had all the more reason to remind employees about appropriate conduct both at work and at work functions.
Ms McCann-Bartlett said in the past, office parties typically coincided with a rise in HR complaints.
“In more recent times employers are certainly more aware of reminding employees the code of conduct does apply even at social events, and employers have been trying to reduce alcohol consumption,” she said.
“What we want to do is just remind employers there are a number of steps they can take in order to make sure there isn’t any fallout.”
Organisations still have legal obligations to ensure employees’ health, wellbeing and safety.
Just as employers would conduct a risk assessment of an office or workspace, Ms McCann-Bartlett said, it is important to identify any potential dangers associated with the location and the journey employees take to and from the event.
“For example, this could mean organising taxis or Ubers for employees to travel home,” she said.
Those who have grown accustomed to working from home might need to be coaxed into coming to a social event, but Ms McCann-Bartlett said it was important not to make them feel “forced”.
AHRI says companies should also consider paying for travel expenses for remote workers in other parts of the country to attend.
“It shouldn’t be mandatory but at the same time it should be encouraged as an opportunity to get together and celebrate,” she said.
“It has been a tough year for a lot of organisations and employees.”
She added that depending on the company’s social media policy, employees may be required to gain approval before posting any (potentially embarrassing) photos or videos from the event online.
“But if you follow these tips, you won’t be having a wild party – you’ll be having a very pleasant event,” she said.
AHRI chief executive Sarah McCann-Bartlett. Picture: Supplied
How to host a safe and inclusive event
• Remind your employees of the company codes of conduct dealing with drugs and alcohol, sexual harassment, discrimination and other unacceptable and inappropriate conduct and emphasise that the codes of conduct apply to all company functions.
• Reduce the risks around alcohol consumption by:
– Providing plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages
– Limiting alcoholic drinks through a voucher system
– Ensuring everyone leaves the premises at the end of the function – don’t allow anyone to stay late to ‘kick on’.
• Remind employees of your company’s social media policy.
• Ensure your party is inclusive by taking the diversity of your employees into consideration. Instead of theming the event around Christmas, position it as an end-of-year celebration.
• Make attendance voluntary. Not everyone loves parties or this time of year, so be sensitive to this and avoid putting any pressure on people.
• Provide an afternoon activity as well as an evening event. Not everybody likes to drink or can make it to night-time events.
• Think about remote workers and how you can make it easy for them to attend. Giving ample notice and communicating transport and accommodation options will help make the decision easier.
• Have a social committee that represents a range of people in the workplace and captures diverse thoughts and ideas.
• If something does go wrong, deal with it impartially and in a timely manner, as you would any other workplace issue.