Background Image
Show me

The office party survival guide

Laura Johnson

With the party season just around the corner, Laura Johnson offers her advice on how to manage the office lightweight in this week’s Office Life blog

The arrival of December triggers a significant change to office life – Christmas party season officially starts. Suddenly lunches can justifiably turn to liquid and even the most reserved member of your team will reveal an outrageous inner self after two glasses of wine. Cue booze-fuelled revelations about colleagues’ private lives, drunken snogs between co-workers and worse still, tearful heart-to-hearts on your shoulder. The office lightweight really knows how to put a dampener on a festive night out (and their career). This means one thing – it’s time to start thinking about how to manage the peak-too-soon-party-pooper in your team.

The last thing you want to do is babysit your team on a night out. So why bother? It’s a Christmas party held outside of the office and not in working hours, so their mistakes are not your responsibility, right? Not in the eyes of the English legal system. The law of vicarious liability means employers are accountable for any actions made by their workers that occur in the course of employment. A Christmas party organised, hosted and paid for by your company could quite easily be classified as an extension of the normal work environment in the eyes of a tribunal. As a result, the lewd comments a drunken colleague intended to be harmless pub banter could become a case for harassment against your company. 

So before you allow the cockle-warming effects of free-flowing mulled wine to lull you into the laid back festive spirit, take heed - t’is the season to be wary.

Don’t make the party all about booze

Christmas parties are never sober affairs. Everyone deserves a tipple or two to toast the end of a year. Just don’t scrimp on food to soak up some of the excess alcohol. If you’re working with a miserly budget, investing in a few sausage rolls is more worthwhile than splurging on a flashy ice sculpture squirting out vodka. And consider arranging entertainment in the hope that the pull of the dance floor will lure your lightweight away from the bar. 

Spot the warning signs

Behaviour that should set alarm bells ringing includes:

• Pre-party boasting about being the last man or woman standing as they float the idea of pre-party drinks. This is the colleague most likely to be stumbling around, picking squabbles with co-workers or nodding off in a corner just an hour into your shindig.

• The newbie who unconvincingly pronounces, “I’ll just stay for the one.” Before you know it they’ll be bellowing out a cringeworthy rendition of ‘Do you think I’m sexy’ while gyrating inappropriately next to their bewildered new colleagues. 

• The office lothario/cougar making the far-too-polite member of your team the target of his or her drunken advances for the duration of the evening. 

• Overheard declarations from the company blabbermouth starting with a slurred, “I shouldn't really say this but…”
What should you do? Take the guilty party outside and let the shock of fresh air work its magic. Maybe offer up a glass or two of water. Or simply bundle them into a taxi back home.

Don't mention pay rises and promotions

Dangling the carrot of great things coming their way is an effective way to silence an alcohol-fuelled weeper. The problem is you can bet your bottom dollar that although the rest of the evening will be an alcohol induced blur, they will remember your ‘promise’ with surprising clarity. Crown Leisure found this out the hard way when a former employee raised a constructive dismissal case against them for declining him a pay rise that he claimed was promised him by his manager at a Christmas party. He failed to convince the tribunal but still it’s a situation to avoid.

Set the boundaries in advance

Publishing sensible policies taking a hard disciplinary line on unacceptable behaviour towards colleagues inside and outside of working hours is a tiresome yet necessary precaution. And if people don't comply, make sure you deal with it rather than turning a blind eye.

Set the right example

Is it OK to let your hair down a little? Definitely. Would a performance of your unique interpretation of Gangnam Style be wrong? Probably, but go ahead if you must. Downing Sambuca shots until you’re hugging the toilet, gossiping about the CEO’s antics at the executive conference in Crete and then snogging an equally intoxicated colleague under the mistletoe? That could make your life back in the office a little awkward. So if you take nothing else from this post, take this tip – make sure you’re not the office lightweight that everyone is sniggering at.


  • Roy Blendell

    I  believe that management should set appropriate boundaries for such events, clarifying what is appropriate and what is not.  Employees often forget that such social environments are an extension of the normal workplace, and so should always ask themselves "Would I normally behave like this in the office during normal working hours?".  There is also the other problem of employees drinking at such events and then driving home - is the employer now liable?

  • David Forrester

    You mention the law of vicarious liability and the English legal system. How does this differ under the Scottish legal system, if at all?

Add a comment

Christmas party do's and don'ts

Latest ILM research reveals that 9 out of 10 staff drink too much - and 48% will come in the next day with a hangover

Read the latest press release