So much is written in the media each year reminding (and warning) employers of the potential liabilities of hosting a holiday party for employees, that, as a lawyer, I wonder why an employer would take on such potential liability. The benefit to an employer of having such an event would have to be significant to justify such risks.
But is there any benefit?
A quick internet search indicates that employees don’t really enjoy such events and feel they are required to attend in order to maintain a career trajectory, whether they wish to or not. Studies also show that employees would rather have the money otherwise spent on a holiday party as a bonus or equivalent gift from the employer. Of those who want holiday parties, it appears to be the open bar that appeals to them, which is exactly the behaviour employers are trying discourage.
A 2012 survey of employees by Glassdoor, Employees’ Top Resolutions for 2013 & Preferred Holiday Perks (November 30, 2012, glassdoor.com) concluded that of those surveyed (2000+ adult employees in the United States) 73 percent wanted a cash bonus as a holiday perk, 60 percent wanted a salary raise, 36 percent wanted paid time off, and 29% wanted a grocery gift card, as opposed to only 5 percent wanting a holiday party (with an open bar, of course).
Even though some employers may believe that a holiday party is necessary to boost employee morale, it may, in fact, do the opposite if there have been any layoffs or other cutbacks at the workplace during the year. In addition, with an increasingly diverse workplace, hosting a holiday party in which people of all cultures and faiths feel comfortable is increasingly challenging. Some faiths prohibit any participation in another religion’s celebrations, while others may be uncomfortable in (or prohibited from) a setting in which alcohol is served.
Employers can still show employees that they wish to celebrate the holidays (and be generous) in many ways which don’t include a holiday party. It may be a good idea for employers to survey employees about how they wish to celebrate the holidays at the workplace. Ideas upon which to invite input include donating the funds (otherwise spent on a party) to an employee-chosen charity, toy collection for charity, lunch-time potlucks or catered event, raffle among employees for a few “larger” gifts, in addition to the monetary options noted above.
For those employers who still wish to accept the challenge of the holiday party – I recommend a review of my blog posting from last November Workplace policies to avoid the holiday party hangover.
Consult the First Reference’s Human Resources PolicyPro® for a discussion of this issue and a sample policy on Alcohol in the Workplace or Conduct and Behaviour tailored to each Canadian jurisdiction (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba & Saskatchewan, Ontario, Atlantic and Quebec Editions).
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