How to plan an office party to remember - for all the right reasons

An end-of-year party is the perfect way to celebrate success and reward your staff.

Natasha Hawker, managing director of HR consultancy Employee Matters, points out it may also be a rare opportunity for your team to interact in person.

“Work these days is more flexible and remote and there can be long periods of time when employees don’t meet face to face,” she says. “The Christmas party can be a great opportunity to bring everyone together to celebrate the achievements of the company and of outstanding employees.”

Conversely, failing to stage an event can result in serious blowback. “It can be demotivating because staff feel undervalued. They might also conclude the business can’t afford a party – that will lead them to worry about their futures,” Hawker says.

“What you want to achieve is team building and a reward for staff.” 

Planning the party

It’s important to choose a venue or activity that’s right for your budget and workforce demographics. A team made up twentysomething men are more likely to enjoy a day of paintballing than a workforce of middle-aged women, for example. 

“Don’t be tempted to go over the top financially if it’s not viable,” Hawker says. “What you want to achieve is team building and a reward for staff – this can be done doing just about any activity if planned well.”

Managing the risk

Keen as they often are to spread festive joy, employers have become increasingly concerned at the prospect of being held legally responsible for the misfortunes or inappropriate behaviour of party guests. The recent emergence of #MeToo, the social media-enabled, anti-sexual-harassment campaign, won’t have done anything to make business owners, or their HR advisers, any less anxious.

For legal purposes, staff parties can be considered an extension of the workplace. That means employers are required to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of employees. What those reasonable steps are will vary but Hawker has the following suggestions for nervous businesspeople:

  1. Set expectations of appropriate behaviour before the event
  2. Ensure under-18s aren’t served alcohol and over-18s aren’t tempted to overindulge (for example, by making an open bar being available for a prolonged period). Plenty of food should also be provided to prevent staff drinking on an empty stomach.
  3. Monitor guests’ behaviour yourself or have a manager do so. Pre-empt trouble by calling taxis for employees who’ve had too much to drink
  4. Lead by example and encourage senior staff to do likewise.
  5. If any incidents occur, conduct an independent investigation as soon as possible.

Protecting your business and staff

If your party is exclusively for staff, you’ll need to make sure your workers’ compensation and management liability is up to date to help protect you from any misbehaviour or mishaps.

If you extend the invitation to suppliers, family or friends, a public liability policy can protect your business and personal assets, should seasonal shenanigans result in you being presented with a lawsuit or claim for damages. Call your Steadfast broker if you need to discuss your cover.

Swinging with the fishes

Sydney-based IT support firm Hotline IT is taking a family-friendly approach to its much-anticipated staff party in 2017. Given several options to choose from, Hotline IT’s 17 staff voted for a BBQ lunch at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary open to partners and children, says co-owner Michelle Joosse.

“This way, more staff members can attend without the hassle of getting a babysitter and it demonstrates that Hotline IT values work/life balance,” Joosse says. “Also, I think people will act more responsibly when children are present.”

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