Holiday Parties in the Public Sector – Let the Fun Be…Safe!

As the holidays approach and the year winds down, public sector employers around the country are preparing to celebrate with colleagues and subordinates in a variety of ways.  For all the potlucks, cube decorating contests and secret Santas, there are still a few bosses who embrace their inner Michael Scott and try to add some cheer to their office through alcohol.  While we would never encourage emulating the management style from America’s favorite Office Regional Manager (with apologies to Robert California), there are several steps supervisors can take to assure the festivities will be safe and fun for everyone.

First and foremost, remind all possible attendees that your holiday party is still a work activity and all policies from your office remain in effect throughout the duration of the party.  Employees will still be working together after the holidays are over, and that means there is still an opportunity for employees to create a hostile working environment or engage in even worse behavior that would violate many of your employee conduct policies.  Strangely enough, many employees forget about this and treat a holiday party like the first home football game at a party school.  All employees should be informed that they need to adhere to all workplace policies no matter where the event is held.

Second, hold the party offsite during non-working hours.  Don’t make it a requirement for employees to attend, or force employees to avoid areas of your office in effort to avoid participation.  The gathering should be completely voluntary, so employees are not pressured or forced to participate in something with which they may not agree.

Third, you are wards of public trust as well as taxpayer dollars.  It is not advisable to provide alcohol to employees at the expense of taxpayers.  With mistrust of expenditures for legitimate government programs at a high, you can guarantee criticism from the public if your government entity is providing spirits to employees on the taxpayer dime.  Not only that, you could also subject yourself to additional scrutiny from auditors who love to spot misuse of public dollars.  Inform employees that they will be responsible for any expenditures on alcohol.

Next: Provide food!  The focus of your event should not be on alcohol, even if it is a part of festivities.  Throw some food at your employees as well as non-alcoholic beverages for people to enjoy.  If they aren’t provided drinks, at least they can leave with something good in their bellies.

And now, for the most fun part of the party for managers – don’t drink!  Not only do supervisors and managers need to keep a level head if someone decides to partake in the Festivus “Airing of Grievances,” they also need to be capable of spotting any employee who is possibly overserved and make sure they are cut off and a safe way home – which should also be a priority for you.  You can avoid accidents and lawsuits if you can ensure that employees are being responsible and safe.

Again, holiday parties for public employers are dangerous territory – they can lead to more problems than they solve.  But if you feel you have to do something to spread the cheer within your office, stay smart, stay well-fed, and stay safe.