As the end of the year approaches, many corporate offices are holding annual holiday parties. While these can be a fun time to celebrate with colleagues and connect outside of typical office settings, there’s also potential for inappropriate situations to arise – especially with the introduction of alcohol. Holiday parties can also present a variety of stressful situations for attendees, including financial obligations and potentially uncomfortable conversations around drinking – or abstaining. While there is certainly value in having events of this nature, there is more value in considering the reason your organization is holding the event in the first place and thinking about creative ways to gather intentionally with colleagues.
The idea of a workplace holiday party can be alluring, with the idea of gathering with colleagues in a non-work setting without daily stressors weighing on conversations. In reality though, alcohol introduces a set of issues that can present real problems for employees, personally and interpersonally. The opportunity for sexual harassment at these events can be high, as explained by the Australia news outlet Women’s Agenda, and employers should have an action plan for addressing sexual harassment and other disrespectful behavior if and when it occurs in a holiday office party setting.
While serving alcohol in and itself is not a problem, it is more inclusive if organizers ensure there are non-alcoholic beverages readily available so that employees don’t feel pressured to drink if they don’t want to. Furthermore, there are so many non-alcoholic options from local breweries or spirit companies that make it easier than ever to provide options that allow all employees to partake in the fun. Creating a space where everyone feels comfortable socializing with colleagues, drinking or not, is an essential piece of making a holiday party work for everyone attending.
Outside of the potential issues that alcohol can present, there are other stressors that can emerge as a result of a company holiday party. Things like Secret Santa gift exchanges can present financial and interpersonal pressures, putting employees in potentially awkward positions of either spending more money than they want to or delivering a gift they’re worried a colleague won’t like because of an inability to devote financial resources towards the exchange.
As companies think through event planning for the holidays and into 2024, thinking about alternatives to happy hours and holiday parties is a good first step towards promoting a more respectful and inclusive culture. If a work party centered around drinking isn’t something that feels right for your organization, things like volunteering as a group or going on an excursion could be good alternatives. Above all else, ensuring that everyone knows there is no pressure to attend or participate in anything that makes them uncomfortable is of the utmost importance. The purpose of gathering is for colleagues to forge positive relationships outside of work, and nobody should feel pressured to partake in a situation that doesn’t advance that goal.
RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit www.RALIANCE.org.