Why workplaces may be cutting back on their holiday parties this year

Workplaces are cutting back on their holiday parties, a new survey reveals. Jacobs Stock Photography / Getty Images

Don’t expect your company holiday party to be free-flowing with booze like years past. Workplaces are doing everything they can to prevent inappropriate workplace engagement – and that includes cracking down on alcohol, a recent American report has found.

According to a survey by Chicago-based employment consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, while 80 per cent of companies plan to host holiday parties this year, 11 per cent say they will not (that’s up 4 per cent since last year).

READ MORE: How to party appropriately at your office’s holiday bash

Of the ones that are throwing a shindig, just over 15 per cent say they will budget less – that’s up from 10 per cent in 2016.

The report also found that fewer of these parties will serve alcohol, use caterers or other outside services, or invite guests of employees to attend.

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(Only about 48 per cent of the 150 employers surveyed will serve alcohol this year, down from nearly 62 per cent the year before.)

“Employers are currently very wary of creating an environment where inappropriate contact between employees could occur,” Andrew Challenge, vice preside of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a statement. “One way to create a safe environment is to limit the guest list, hold the party during the workday and avoid serving alcohol.”

These findings come on the heels of sexual misconduct allegations involving some of Hollywood’s biggest names, like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and others.

“It’s very possible the results we’re seeing are due to news reports of sexual harassment and assault at work,” Challenger said. “The company party is a way for employers to celebrate the accomplishments of their workers. It should boost morale and let workers know they are valued. It should not put anyone in an uncomfortable situation.”

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“As soon as you introduce alcohol at an off-site activity, people’s guards are dropping,” Ed Yost, manager of employee relations and development for the Society for Human Resource Management in Virginia, says. “It’s presumed to be a less formal, more social environment. Some people will drink more than they typically would on a Friday night or a Saturday because it’s an open bar or a free cocktail hour.”

A survey by Bloomberg Law said those kinds of safeguards are common: while most companies ask bartenders or security or even some employees to keep an eye on how much partygoers are drinking, others limit the number of free drinks or the time they’re available. A small minority have cash bars instead of an open bar.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses recommends all of those steps and adds another that might seem obvious these days: don’t hang mistletoe. It’s been giving those suggestions for several years, Canadian Press reports.

Yost said he always gets a lot of requests for advice in planning and managing these events, but he’s getting even more of them this year.

Considering this was a small survey, Amy Rieck, senior manager of human resources at Workopolis, says the findings should be taken into context.

“I think what we need to keep in mind for Canadian workplaces is that all of these media events that have come out have all happened in the U.S. and this is a report done by a U.S. firm so this could be speaking more so to the U.S. workforce as opposed to Canadian workforces,” she says. “However, being in North America, we are all receiving the same news information.”

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And the reasons for companies to forego parties this year may be because of other reasons, Rieck adds.

READ MORE: The 25 best places to work in Canada according to Indeed

For example, employers may be reacting to the recent legislation that was passed by the Ontario government, Rieck says. Bill 132 took effect in September 2016. The Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act sets out specific requirements and definitions of what sexual harassment is. It includes parameters requiring investigations and also sets out procedures for how employers are supposed to go about conducting these investigations.

“So if this is a trend in Canada as well, we could possibly say it’s a result of Bill 132 coming out in September 2016,” Rieck says. “And employers are now reacting a little bit more to what they’re required to do if allegations of sexual harassment do come up.”

Other reasons may be because of money constraints and religious and cultural sensitivity, Rieck adds.

But should offices be rethinking their holiday parties this year because of the headlines, it’s not a good idea to shut it down altogether, Rieck says.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Rieck says. “I think it’s better to scale back as opposed to cancelling, the reason being the people who attend these parties really look forward to them. You don’t want to cut out the party altogether and have that disappointment. People feel that [these parties] are an appreciation of the hard work they’ve put in throughout the year. It really is a morale booster.”
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Some ways companies can be proactive in preventing any incidents may be switching from an open bar system to a drink ticket system and limiting the amount of alcohol employees consume or employing security or monitors whose job it is to keep an eye out at these parties, Rieck suggests.

— With files from Canadian Press

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