It’s officially the holiday season, and for many workplaces that means the annual office holiday party is just around the corner. These festive employee gatherings present a fantastic opportunity for staff to unwind, have fun and foster team connections. However, HR professionals are well aware that organizing such events come with its own set of responsibilities and considerations. So, before you start decking out the halls and sending out those invites, take a moment to peruse some helpful tips for creating an enjoyable celebration… avoiding any HR headaches along the way. (And if you’ve already had your office party, keep these tips in mind for next year.)

Look at your celebrations through an IDEA lens: Even though Christmas is the dominant holiday in North America, it’s important to note that not all your employees celebrate Christmas or experience this as a positive or happy time of year. That’s why any sort of festivities or activities your workplace is hosting should be inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible (IDEA). One way to do this is by acknowledging non-dominant holidays in your celebrations. Alternatively, you can stick with the generalities of the holiday and leave any religious connotations out of the office so no one feels excluded.

To make sure your holiday is accessible for everyone including those with physical or neurological differences, triple-check that your venue meets your staff’s (and if invited, guests) accommodation needs.

Pick the venue and hours wisely: Speaking of venues, if you plan on having the event at a third-party establishment, choose one that aligns with your company’s values. Also, select a venue that complies with provincial health and safety regulations – one with proper emergency exits that are clearly marked. Of course, the health and safety of your staff and guests should be prioritized even if the work party is taking place at the office.

Another point of consideration is the time of your event. Holding the work party during work hours or immediately after work can discourage employees from engaging in pre-party activities such as overconsuming alcohol. Added to that, keeping the duration of the party limited ensures that staff members do not leave the event too late.

Make participation optional: Make no mistake: inclusivity is not synonymous with mandatory participation. Some staff may not be able to attend your holiday staff party due to cultural or religious observances. Others might not feel comfortable attending for other reasons or prior personal commitments. Communicate to your staff that the holiday office party is just for fun and that their absence will not be held against them. Otherwise, mandating attendance may pose legal risks, especially if an employee expresses discomfort with the holiday being celebrated.

Communicate your code of conduct: Employees should be informed that your office party is an extension of the workplace. That means, as HR, communicate to staff that there is zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour – and unwanted conduct (including but not limited to unwanted sexual advances or discriminatory remarks) could lead to disciplinary action.

Perhaps, before the party, you can remind employees of your workplaces’ code of conduct with examples of unacceptable behaviour at work parties. You may also want to extend your code of conduct policy to also include information about appropriate gift-giving at work, especially between employees and customers, employees and leaders and employees and colleagues.

Be mindful of alcohol consumption: It’s not uncommon to have an open bar or alcohol available at work festivities. But your workplace should promote responsible alcohol consumption. To that end, employers may want to keep liquor with high alcohol content off the menu, set a limit of drinks per person with drink tickets and have plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives available. Or even consider hosting an event where alcohol is not the focus such as luncheon. Companies may also want to offer a shuttle service to public transportation or pay for taxis and ride-hailing services to prevent employees from driving under the influence.

Remember, excessive drinking can often result in alcohol-related mishaps, leading to inappropriate behaviour and comments. But whether alcohol is involved or not, HR should properly and thoroughly investigate all alleged incidents of harassment or other misconduct that may occur at the party.

Bottom-line: Office holiday parties can easily spiral out of control and become an HR nightmare. But with careful planning and communication, your holiday celebration can be memorable for all the right reasons.