Earlier this year Bloomberg Businessweek produced a deeply critical exposé of insurance market, Lloyds of London in which they highlighted a deeply inground culture of sexual harassment and inequality. In response, Lloyds conducted a survey which revealed that 1 in 5 of their staff did not believe that employees had equal opportunities. In fact 8% reported having witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace over the previous year and 22% had seen co-workers ‘turning a blind eye’ to such inappropriate behaviour. The survey uncovered reports of unacceptable levels of inappropriate comments, worktime drinking and ‘boorish’ behaviour.

This situation is by no means isolated. Over the past few years we have heard about harassment in Parliament, Google, sport, the BBC etc. Another survey, carried out for the Britain at Work series (2017), found that 20% of women questioned reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. Potentially more worrying is that over half (58%) of women said they would not report sexual harassment. Could this be because a third of reported cases are never acted on, while 18% weren’t even acknowledged?

Following the damning results of their survey, Lloyds has taken steps to tackle the male-dominated culture in the workplace. They have implemented a gender-balance plan to promote more female representation at senior levels, they are encouraging people to speak-up about harassment they have experienced or witnessed and have created a system for measuring the cultural wellbeing of the organisation.

All good Festive Frolics?

It remains to be seen if Lloyds efforts change the organisational culture, but Christmas can be a particularly challenging time of year and they are keen not to lose the ground they have gained so far.  Ahead of the annual festive company party, on the 6th December, Chief Executive, John Neal, sent a warning email to all staff, requesting them to be “particularly careful” when celebrating with colleagues over the festive period. 

Neal said: “We’ve asked people to be particularly careful and remind their staff of the standards of behaviour that they would expect, including at Christmas parties.”

In addition to this warning, the organisation will also be providing sober chaperones to ensure these new standards are adhered to at all Christmas gatherings.

This issue is not limited to big or established organisations either. Work-related social events can prove problematic for even the smallest of businesses. The Equality Act 2010 means that employers are liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation that occur in the workplace. This extends to any and all work-related events, on or off your primary premises for business or pleasure.

Party Policy

Centuries old Lloyds of London should have had a work-related events policy in place long ago. All organisations should consider implementing such a policy to cover work-related events, parties, trade shows, conferences etc. all year round. Some aspects to consider:

  • Be clear about what behaviour is acceptable, and what is not. For example, overindulgence may be fine, but excessive drunkenness, illegal drugs, unlawful behaviour and aggressive or destructive behaviour is not.
  • Zero tolerance for sexual harassment. As Lloyds found, male-dominated workplaces can normalise sexual harassment in the workplace, but even in more gender-balanced organisations it’s essential to be clear that such behaviour will not be tolerated
  • Take allegations seriously. Offensive or inappropriate behaviour is too often not reported because there is an expectation that the business will not handle it correctly.
  • Alcohol is often the root cause of many workplace social issues. Limit the availability of free alcohol and be sure to provide plenty of interesting non-acholic alternatives. You can also manage alcohol consumption by providing regular food, so no-one is drinking on an empty stomach.
  • Don’t discipline anyone at the event. Send them home and deal with them during normal working hours when everyone is thinking clearly.
  • Get everyone home safely. The business needs to consider how everyone will get home safely from the event. Don’t let anyone drink and drive or travel alone late at night. If appropriate provide taxis or offer a shared minibus.
  • If the party or event is in the middle of the week be clear who is expected in bright and early the next day. Consider offering a late start or drawing lots for staggered start times.

 

Don’t be a scrooge

No-one is proposing the business equivalent of the Grinch, this isn’t about taking all the fun out of Christmas. Instead the aim is to proactively support everyone to have fun while protecting the reputation of employees and the organisation. Festive events, leaving parties, corporate entertaining, conferences etc can all be a great opportunity to build and strengthen team bonds. Any policy and event planning should always keep that in mind.

Think laterally

In addition to a clear workplace events policy there are other ways to keep the peace while having fun.  If traditional alcohol-fuelled events often cause challenges for the organisation, then consider other ways to celebrate.

Escape rooms, games nights, climbing walls, cinema trips or bowling are all becoming increasingly popular alternatives to the traditional office party. There are many different ways to reward employees, promote team bonds and enjoy the festive season.

It is also worth being mindful of seating arrangements, room allocation and gender balance when organising work-related socials. Considering carefully who will attend and how they will interact will ensure that everyone has a safe, enjoyable and positive time. 

The morning after

Finally, even well organised events can run into problems. In most cases, the worst that will happen is that staff may not be at their best the following day, late in or unable to attend entirely. This can be managed in the usual manner when dealing with absence or lateness.  If things have gone more seriously awry, and someone has broken the employee code of conduct, then it is acceptable to set discipline procedures in motion. The exact nature of this process will depend on the incident and its potential impact on the working environment. In extreme cases employers have been found to have fairly dismissed an employee for fighting or assault following a Christmas party.

As this article makes clear, the role of employer in the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff is key when it comes to workplace parties and events. For this reason it is prudent for organisations to have a clear and constructive policy detailing the expectations of both employer and employee for behaviour during and following workplace events.