Of­fice hol­i­day par­ties get an­other look as scandals con­tinue

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - MAR­LEY JAY

NEW YORK — With a se­ries of high-pro­file work­place sex scandals on their minds, em­ploy­ers are mak­ing sure their hol­i­day of­fice par­ties don’t be­come part of the prob­lem.

There will be less booze at many. An in­de­pen­dent business or­ga­ni­za­tion has re­newed its an­nual warn­ing not to hang mistle­toe. And some will have party mon­i­tors, keep­ing an eye out for in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour.

TV and movies of­ten de­pict of­fice par­ties as wildly in­ap­pro­pri­ate bac­cha­nals or ex­cru­ci­at­ingly awk­ward fi­as­coes, if not, hor­ri­fy­ingly, both. But even a reg­u­lar of­fice party can be com­pli­cated be­cause the rules peo­ple nor­mally ob­serve at work don’t quite ap­ply, which makes it eas­ier for peo­ple to ac­ci­den­tally cross a line — or try to get away with se­ri­ous mis­be­haviour. Es­pe­cially when too much drink­ing is in­volved.

Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey by Chicago-based con­sult­ing com­pany Chal­lenger, Gray & Christ­mas, only 49 per cent of com­pa­nies in the U.S. plan to serve al­co­hol at their hol­i­day events. Last year that num­ber was 62 per cent, the high­est in the decade that the firm has run its sur­vey. The num­ber had been go­ing up each year as the econ­omy im­proved.

“As soon as you in­tro­duce al­co­hol at an off­site ac­tiv­ity, peo­ples’ guards are dropped,” said Ed Yost, man­ager of em­ployee re­la­tions and de­vel­op­ment for the So­ci­ety for Hu­man Re­source Man­age­ment based in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia. “It’s pre­sumed to be a less for­mal, more so­cial en­vi­ron­ment. Some peo­ple will drink more than they typ­i­cally would on a Fri­day night or a Satur­day be­cause it’s an open bar or a free cock­tail hour.”

The Huff­in­g­ton Post re­ported Dec. 1 that Vox Me­dia, which runs sites in­clud­ing Vox and Re­code, won’t have an open bar this year at its hol­i­day party and will in­stead give em­ploy­ees two tick­ets they can re­deem for drinks. It will also have more food than in years past. The com­pany re­cently fired its editorial di­rec­tor, Lock­hart Steele, af­ter a former em­ployee made al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual harassment against him.

A sur­vey by Bloomberg Law said those kinds of safe­guards are com­mon: while most com­pa­nies ask bar­tenders or se­cu­rity or even some em­ploy­ees to keep an eye on how much par­ty­go­ers are drink­ing, oth­ers limit the num­ber of free drinks or the time they’re avail­able. A small mi­nor­ity have cash bars in­stead of an open bar.

The Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Busi­nesses rec­om­mends all of those steps, and adds an­other that might seem ob­vi­ous these days: don’t hang mistle­toe. It’s been giv­ing those sug­ges­tions for sev­eral years.

Yost said he al­ways gets a lot of re­quests for ad­vice in plan­ning and man­ag­ing these events, but he’s get­ting even more of them this year. He said he’ll be spend­ing his cor­po­rate hol­i­day party the way he al­ways does: pa­trolling hall­ways, check­ing se­cluded areas and try­ing to watch for peo­ple who look like they are stuck in an un­com­fort­able sit­u­a­tion — for ex­am­ple, in­ap­pro­pri­ate touch­ing or a con­ver­sa­tion that’s taken a bad turn. If they’re vis­i­bly un­com­fort­able, he’ll in­ter­vene and plan a later con­ver­sa­tion with the person re­spon­si­ble.

The Chal­lenger, Gray & Christ­mas sur­vey shows that about 80 per cent of com­pa­nies will have a hol­i­day party, the same as last year. And not ev­ery­one is plan­ning changes.

An­thony Vi­tiello, the mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for soft­ware com­pany An­ton Robb Group, said he planned his com­pany’s event and didn’t re­think it. For the past few years the firm has marked the hol­i­day with drinks and passed hors d’oeu­vre in the wide cel­lar of a lo­cal restau­rant.

Vi­tiello thinks the for­mal set­ting makes the event calmer.

“We haven’t had any in­ci­dents, not a sin­gle one I can re­call, where any­one got loud or over­con­sumed,” he said.

He added that many of his com­pany’s 25 em­ploy­ees go out for drinks once a month, and he’s not aware of any cases of mis­con­duct.

Yost said he’s not mak­ing changes to his group’s event ei­ther. He added that com­pa­nies con­cerned about sex­ual mis­con­duct need to look fur­ther than the hol­i­day party.

“While there are ad­di­tional com­pli­ca­tions that are as­so­ci­ated with a hol­i­day event, that’s one day a year,” he said.

SHIRONOSOV, GETTY IMAGES/IS­TOCK­PHOTO

Some com­pa­nies are ditch­ing the mistle­toe, re­duc­ing the al­co­hol and in­creas­ing the food at hol­i­day par­ties.

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