Holiday parties are a great way to bring everyone together and celebrate – another year passed, your company’s wins, your employees’ successes. But as useful as they are for boosting morale, they can also be a bit tricky to navigate as a leader.
In fact, this annual tradition can result in a couple of moments that are downright uncomfortable. To help managers deal with them efficiently (so you can have fun, too), we put together this cheat sheet on how to handle the four most common situations.
Situation #1: A colleague drinks too much
While holiday parties are a great opportunity for employees to blow off some steam and celebrate the end of the year with their colleagues, when someone’s idea of fun includes having one too many, it’s time for someone to intervene. Ideally, the employee’s colleagues will be paying attention and helping the employee long before you become aware of anything.
How to handle it: First, ask the bartender to stop serving them. Second, ask them to come sit down with you and eat something. If they refuse, then you can pull them aside somewhere inconspicuous to let them know that they’ve had too much to drink and to offer to arrange a ride home for them.
Situation #2: Someone starts spouting off about politics
Talking about politics among co-workers can create tension and conflict, especially when coupled with alcohol. Not to mention being a total buzzkill at holiday parties! Here’s what to do when someone starts getting heated about current events.
How to handle it: If you hear someone saying something that is controversial or inflammatory, start from a neutral place. Casually insert yourself in the conversation and ask what the conversation is about. If they respond with the controversial topic, calmly let them know that you don’t find the topic okay to discuss among colleagues at a work event. If they don’t get the hint, pull them aside and remind them that although everyone is entitled to their beliefs, an office party isn’t the place to bring up subject that may be controversial to others. Let them know they need to talk about something else to avoid getting anyone caught up in a contentious conversation.
Situation #3: Someone is invading a coworker’s personal space
The last thing you want to happen at your holiday party is for somebody to feel bullied, intimidated, or sexually harassed. If somebody is having a hard time respecting other people’s space, then it’s time to get involved.
How to handle it: Sending out a reminder of your company’s policies on harassment before the party can help head off anything inappropriate on the day of. Having a pre-meeting with other leaders in advance of the event to remind them of their responsibilities as supervisors and discuss strategies on how to address anything that might pop up can also be useful. The general rule is to follow the same protocol as you would if it had happened in the office.
Situation #4: Suggestive conversation
While you most likely will not be part of a conversation that starts to veer off the acceptable track, there might be a moment where you overhear something a coworker has said that’s suggestive or lewd.
How to handle it: Again, this is a situation where you’ll need to approach it as if it happened in the office. After all, your holiday party is a company-sponsored event. We suggest interrupting the conversation immediately, and speaking to the person or people involved individually about respecting appropriate boundaries at a work event. If they don’t acquiesce and recognize their misstep, ask them to leave the party right away, then follow up with this person during business hours right away, following your organization’s normal procedures in evaluating and addressing the situation.
Enjoy the party, too! Being prepared and organized is half the battle, so make sure to have a plan in place with managers about everyone taking responsibility for making sure *everyone* is enjoying the event, including you!