Office Christmas parties – a survival guide for HR managers

By Anthony Wolny | 28th November 2018 | 10 min read

With less than a month to go until Christmas, the vast majority of us will be existing in something of a frenzy – frantically shopping for gifts, putting up decorations, and masterminding a way through the inevitable family politics that always seem to be part and parcel of the festivities.

On top of this, there’s still several weeks left at work to power through, and many HR managers will be starting to turn their attention towards the pinnacle event in the professional festive calendar – the Christmas party!

The office Christmas party should provide staff with the chance to let their hair down with colleagues and build strong working relationships, and most companies want to reward their staff for their hard work and dedication during the year. However, a festive combination of high spirits and unlimited alcohol can often result in a headache for the HR managers who are tasked with successfully navigating the minefield of workplace Christmas parties.

No-one wants to be a party pooper after all, but if you are an employer or member of your workplace’s HR department, it pays to be prepared for the festive season. Some key areas to be aware of when you start to plan your approach to the Christmas include:


Some managers can balk at the need to reiterate company codes of conduct in relation to social events, but you shouldn’t be afraid of setting out clear behaviour guidelines as to what is acceptable on the night itself. Taking the time to remind staff that the Christmas party still constitutes a work-related event, and that as such, the company will therefore be held responsible for any disruptive actions, can help to set the tone of expectations from the start.

It should be made clear that any breach of your usual standards of conduct could result in an employee facing formal disciplinary procedures, or further action depending on the nature of their behaviour.


Most firms are eager to repay hardworking employees with a generous or even free bar allowance at the Christmas party, but with free alcohol being named as a pivotal factor in tribunals brought against companies by their employees, it would be wise to exercise a note of caution.

If you are keen to provide a free bar, ensure that you also provide a range of soft drinks that all employees can access, and try to roughly monitor the level of alcohol consumption as the night draws on. Issuing free drinks tokens, with a set number available to each attendee, can also help you to try to keep alcohol consumption under control.

Social media

The growing prevalence of social media means that inappropriate use can be a business issue at any time, but work-related social gatherings can require stricter guidance. Successful management, as with behaviour, comes down to issuing clear guidelines to all staff – if you would rather they didn’t upload photos and videos from the evening to social media, you must explain why, and the potential impact that negative or offensive content could have on the wider business.

Another option that you could consider could be to ask that all employees’ use a specific hashtag when uploading images and footage – that way, you can sense-check what content is being shared, and politely ask that people remove anything that isn’t appropriate. Christmas party season can act as a good time to remind people of your business’s social media policy, or to consider drawing one up if you do not already have guidelines in place.


If you have decided to hold your event externally, or you have bought tickets for a themed Christmas party that accommodates other companies, consider the type of entertainment that will be provided on the night. Is the running order of the evening suitable for all staff? Is there something included that everyone will enjoy in some capacity?

For example, a casino-themed evening is likely to have a heavy reliance on gambling for entertainment – great if your employees are up for roulette and blackjack, but it could be seen as isolating for anyone whose religion bans the practice, or even for those who may have family members negatively affected by gambling.

Consider your audience carefully when weighing up entertainment options for your Christmas party!

Absence management

This topic rears its head every year, but absences do tend to spike during the Christmas period for many businesses. To try and avoid any unnecessary absences, some companies opt to hold their Christmas party on a Friday – often at extra cost to the business, but this often pays for itself in terms of allowing employees’ two days in which to ‘recover’ before their attendance in the office is again required.

If your party does happen to fall on a weekday, you must make all staff aware of what is expected from them the following day – could you consider a later start in the morning, or perhaps an earlier finish time? Could you consider staggering working hours across teams? Ultimately, if you lay out exactly what you expect from people in regards to the following working day, you are far more likely to avoid late night and alcohol-related absences.

Top 6 takeaway tips for HR to ensure a successful Christmas party:

  • Provide a clear guidance on the standard of behaviour expected – ensure that staff understand that the Christmas party is still a professional event
  • Send reminders advising people to make arrangements for travelling home – could you prebook taxis from the venue for staff?
  • Ensure that a range of refreshments, including soft drinks, are provided in order to cater to everyone
  • Reiterate guidelines around social media – make staff aware of what they can and cannot post
  • Consider inclusivity and discrimination when planning entertainment for the evening
  • Make it clear that attendance is not compulsory – respect that people may have religious beliefs or prior plans that mean they cannot commit to attending.