Feeling shaky after the office party? Lydia Stockdale has some advice for next year

By now, your festive spirit could have evaporated and been replaced with haunting recollections of drunkenly demanding a pay rise from your boss, or declaring your undying love for the person who sits opposite you or worse.

Perhaps you were the person responsible for organising a Christmas party from hell.

If any of the above applies, read on. And while you pop the Alka Seltzer, take note of a few dos and don’ts to put in your diary for December 2008.

Remember you are still at work

Alyson Pellowe, founder of human resources management consultant People Vision, says that while the industry has a reputation for doing business at big jollies, it does not mean you can take things too far.

‘You don’t want to have people saying: “Look at the so-and-so team”. It’s just not good PR’, she says.

Use the event as an opportunity

The Christmas party gives you access to senior people when they are in a good mood. ‘It is a good chance to put your ideas forward and have an intelligent conversation,’ says Pellowe.

Be aware that your jokes are not always funny

‘What is appropriate for one person isn’t appropriate for another,’ says Tracey Wells, human resources director at Atisreal. Mike Huss, a senior employment specialist at legal consultant Peninsula, agrees.

He says individuals can be taken to tribunal for making an inappropriate comment, leading to a possible fine of at least £5,000. For ‘serious injury to feelings’, this can be up to £25,000.

Drag yourself in to work the next morning

No matter how bad you feel, make sure you show your face.

‘If everybody else can have the self-restraint in order to be there, it reflects negatively if you don’t,’ says Jeff Pearey, head of Jones Lang LaSalle’s Leeds office.

Corner your boss

With too much alcohol in your system, it is easy to get an over-inflated sense of justice, and to confront your boss about your pay packet.

‘People will find a voice on these evenings, and it is not helpful,’ says Pellowe.

Pick fights

‘There have been instances when fights have broken out in public with a competing firm,’ admits one office head, who did not wish to be named.

Scuffles can also break out between colleagues. John Williams, managing director of surveying firm Aston Rose, recalls the Christmas party when he picked a fight with a member of his own team.

‘I slapped my dad around the head with a raw Dover sole at [West End property hotspot] Finos,’ he recalls.

Provide a talking point

People drink to be comfortable, so take the focus away from the individual by providing an ice-breaker.

‘Get people talking by providing some form of focus, like a casino night,’ suggests Pellowe.

Have some old-fashioned Christmas fun

Tony Joyce, head of GVA Grimley’s City office, suggests a good old Christmas sing-song.

‘Years ago, when I worked at Hamptons & Sons, we went for a Christmas lunch at the George and Vulture in Mayfair,’ he says. ‘Two of the team were professional singers and they would lead everyone in the singing. I miss that.’

Know your responsibilities

Huss warns that even if the firm does not formally organise the staff night out but contributes money towards it, it is still regarded as a sponsor and is therefore held responsible if something goes wrong.

Manage expectations

If you write something precautionary to staff beforehand about behaviour on any emails or notices regarding the Christmas party, you are in ‘more of a position to take disciplinary action,’ advises Huss.

Let the camera go for a wander.

Whoever has control of the digital camera has ‘the potential to wield a lot of power,’ says Guy Gillfilan, head of Lambert Smith Hampton’s Sheffield office.

Allow mates to stick together

‘Ensure there is a seating plan and mix people up,’ says Richard Crook, marketing partner at Drivers Jonas. It means they will talk to different people in the organisation.

The general rule is: the more formal the event, the stronger the sense of occasion, so the better people will behave.

Lose control of the bar

Savills starts its event with a free bar and then monitors when to turn it into a cash bar to slow down the pace of drinking, explains Lorna White, human resources director.

Drivers Jonas on the other hand, pays for all drinks. ‘We put trust in people by paying for everything and they give the same in return,’ explains Crook.

Don’t pretend it didn’t

The worst thing you can do is denial. Apologise to anyone who may have been offended by your behaviour.

‘If you don’t broach the subject, people will only go on to misconstrue what happened,’ says Mel White, resourcing manager at Atisreal.

Worse, if an employer ignores a situation that has been brought to its attention, it can be taken to tribunal for negligence, warns Pellowe.

Get in there first

Apologise before you are approached about your behaviour.

If you have had a drunken night of ‘romance’ with a colleague, make sure you speak to them and agree on how you will handle the situation before you face your other workmates.

Hold your head up high

Remember you are a professional and get on with your work. If you need to apologise, do it and then quietly move on.

‘It will be old news in no time,’ says White. 

  • Got any cautionary Christmas party tales?

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Who’s been where

GVA Grimley, City office, London
On 19 December, office head Tony Joyce flew his team of 10 to Barcelona for lunch at the Hotel Arts followed by shopping.

‘It is cheaper to fly to Barcelona and have a top lunch there than it is to eat in a West End restaurant,’ says Joyce, who treats his team to a trip abroad every year. In the past, they have been to Dubrovnik, Prague and Venice.
Drivers Jonas, UK and Europe.

Later on today, around 650 Drivers Jonas employees will attend a black tie dinner dance at London’s Park Lane Hilton. The company has been holding the same kind of Christmas event for the last 75 years.

There will be some mystery entertainment and a mystery speaker, a member of staff who has usually been chosen because they have been ‘identified as a partner of the future’. The speaker will then recite anecdotes from over the last year.

Aston Rose, London
Like every year, the firm’s Chrismas party, held today, will involve managing director John Williams surprising his staff with the venue of their Christmas lunch. At 1 pm, he will lead the walk to a West End restaurant. For ‘Secret Santa’, everyone in the team has to get crafty and make one of their colleagues a personalised gift. The company pays for everything, and afterwards they will meet up with their other halves, clients and those who have left the firm, for drinks in Finos.

Urban Splash, UK
Not ones to do things by half, the whole company headed to Rotterdam on 14 December. They spent the morning having a look at the city’s buildings, and then sat down for a company meeting followed by lunch.

Some people chose to return home on the Friday, while others stayed until the Sunday. Urban Splash paid for all of the flights and for the lunch on the Friday. It organises a Christmas trip abroad every other year.

Farebrother, London
A smaller London firm, the 40-strong team chose to go to share their Christmas party with other companies at an event at Lindley Hall near Victoria on the 12th. The evening, organised by events company Alternate Experience, had a Cirque de Noel theme, similar to Cirque du Soleil.

There were trapeze artists and other performers, a three-course dinner and a disco. ‘In the past we’ve had private dining rooms, and it can be quite stuffy,’ says Farebrother’s office manager Chrissie Ashley.