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Too Much Risk, Is The Work Christmas Party Dead?

As the holiday season approaches, the traditional work Christmas party, once a cherished fixture in the corporate calendar, faces a pressing question: Is it on its way out? The answer isn't straightforward, but the undeniable risks associated with these gatherings have forced businesses to rethink their approach.

Historically, work Christmas parties provided a chance for colleagues, from the average Joe to the CEO, to relax, bond, and celebrate their year's achievements. These events are now under scrutiny, and for good reason.

The end-of-year party poses reputational and financial risks in today’s modern work environment. Blurring the lines between professional and personal conduct can lead to regrettable incidents that tarnish employee relationships and a company’s image.

TDDA provides professional drug and alcohol policy, testing, training and education services, and to say things get busy this time of year is an understatement.

Drunken antics, inappropriate behaviour, and blunders appearing in social and mainstream media are all too common after the company party. These incidents reflect poorly on everyone and frequently result in legal consequences and costly disciplinary actions. Talent and financial loss are common, and remember costs continue to rise in hiring and training new staff. Damage to workplace morale and productivity can persist long after the party ends.

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The culprit is excessive alcohol consumption as well as the use of illicit substances. They lead to impaired judgment, accidents, and legal liability for business owners when facing responsibility for inadequate preventative measures.

Kiwis have been caught up in all sorts of tricky situations where alcohol was an instigating factor. Remember the man who woke up naked in a Manawatū field 200 km away from his work Christmas party? Or that employee brawl on a company-chartered bus resulting in the bus driver kicking everyone off and calling the police?

To address these concerns, some companies have cancelled traditional work Christmas parties, a move that sacrifices benefits such as a positive workplace culture and employee engagement.

TDDA believes that striking a balance between responsible conduct and celebration is essential. Some businesses won’t have any trouble navigating responsible drinking at the Christmas party, but many do, and those with concerns should consider alternative approaches. Every business should start by having clear policies and guidelines regarding acceptable behaviour, and remind employees before the day of the party. Employers should communicate expectations about conduct and behaviour well in advance.

Hosting low alcohol or even alcohol-free Christmas parties is a growing New Zealand and Australian trend. Diversifying party activities can create a more inclusive environment. Offering family-friendly events, team-building activities, or volunteer opportunities ensures everyone feels included.

The future of work Christmas parties hinges on balancing celebration with responsibility. Businesses can seize the opportunity to promote a positive workplace culture, strengthen team bonds, and celebrate achievements while addressing potential pitfalls. By taking proactive measures and ensuring responsible behaviour, work Christmas parties can continue to play a meaningful role in the corporate world.

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