'Tis the Season to be jolly but do beware of HR folly

Submitted by Dawn on 23rd December 2019

HR, Christmas, bonus, communication, clarity, workplace

You won’t be surprised that the final Gravitas HR blog for 2019 should have a Christmas theme. Of course, we all tend to idealise the festive season as a wonderful time of year, steeped in good cheer and merriment. But Christmas is also a time when things can go awry - not just at home - but in the workplace too. So - today, we highlight six potential Christmas pitfalls - and how to avoid them.

1. Your employees are demanding a long Christmas holiday

If they haven’t taken all their annual holiday entitlement yet and the holiday ‘year’ ends on December 31st, then you’re contractually-bound to give them the appropriate time off. It helps to think of holidays as a health provision to give your most valuable asset periods of rest.

However, if the arrangement is putting a strain on your business, why not discuss with your employees a policy which lays out when holidays should be taken, how they should apply for the time off and how you will prioritise if too many people want the same time off.

2. Christmas is here at last! What about that final day?

What are your plans for the final day before Christmas? Will you and your employees be spending all day partying … or is there work to be done?

It’s important to be clear - everyone deserves to know where they stand. If you’re in the habit of communicating company goals and the ethos of your business, there should be little room for doubt. Your employees will understand that there’s work to be done, clients to be attended to, phone calls to be made. But, if you’re sure that your business won’t suffer, then, of course - declare that there will be an in-house office party or that everyone can go home early.

The important thing is - clarity and communication. Make sure everyone knows well in advance, what will be happening on the final day.

3. What about alcohol? 

For many people, Christmas means booze … but alcohol in the workplace can lead to serious issues – even disaster.

Don’t feel that by banning alcohol from your workplace, you’re being a scrooge. Far from it. If anything, you have a duty of care to make sure that all your people are safe and secure - something to which alcohol is definitely not conducive. You’re responsible for the safety of your employees. If they have an accident at work or even on the way home, there’s every chance you’ll be culpable if you can’t demonstrate that you’ve done all you can to prevent such incidents.

4. Should we hold a Christmas party? 

Well, most of us, without a moment’s thought, will reply with a hearty ‘Yes!’. After all, tradition and conventional wisdom suggest that a party is a good idea - a great way of showing how much you, the employer, care for your people.

But is this always the case? Do people always enjoy a formal event with the people they see every single working day – including the ones they may dislike? Could it be better to give everyone a cash bonus instead? Or perhaps an extra half or full day off?

Let’s say you follow the norm and organise a staff party, think carefully the conditions you should apply. For example, assuming alcohol is on the menu, be sure to make the conditions clear – for example, one free drink, or a drink only with the meal. Offering a free bar might sound generous but the dangers, which we really don’t need to spell out are obvious and considerable.  

One suggestion - if appropriate, appoint some of your managers to keep an eye on behaviour and nip in the bud any undesirable behaviour before it gets out of hand.

5. Are Christmas bonuses always expected?

In the old days, possibly yes but one of the difficulties of paying them out just because it’s Christmas is that your employees come to expect them and take their bonuses for granted.

Make sure that bonuses are part of the corporate pay strategy, with Christmas being a convenient time to announce the levels.  They should be carefully structured and reflect company, departmental, or individual performance. The last two can be fraught with danger. Make sure you can justify each payment objectively.   You may be better making a Christmas more of a symbolic gesture and separate it from other incentive plans.  This could mean a similar payment for all employees based on the Company performance.   

6. What about Christmas presents? Can they be a problem?

They certainly can be.

Try suggesting to your team leaders that, if their staff want to give each other presents, they should restrict the amount spent on each or maybe just stick to exchanging to Christmas cards.  

And presents to your company from suppliers? Are these a genuine ‘thank you’? Or are they a kind of bribe? Who deserves to enjoy the gift? You, your buyer or purchasing manager or the person who made the product? If you can, think about distributing presents fairly. One option is to auction them off to staff with the proceeds going to a charity chosen by your employees.

Here to help

As HR specialists, we understand the psychology of the workplace and how Christmas, being a time of revelry and high excitement, can have its downsides.

For straight-talking advice on these festive issues, call us - 01604 763494

Or email - info@GravitasHR.co.uk