Stop Office Holiday Party Antics From Going Viral on Social Media
Party pictures the good, the bad, and the mortifying have a way of becoming legendary among friends. Factor in social media, and those photos can take on a life of their own. Now, add up the disastrous potential of antics at your office holiday party the kind of inappropriate behavior all employers dread and the possibility of those moments going viral on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
Forget the Monday-morning-water-cooler-fodder of yore. Now, unfortunate hijinks at a company party can wind up "living in perpetuity in cyberspace," says Akerman Senterfitt partner Jennifer Williams, a labor and employment law attorney who blogged recently about this very issue.
"We see the same types of concerns from employers and our clients as the holidays approach, but in the last year to three years, it's sort of taken a different turn," says Williams. "As with all things recently, social media has become a very effective and normalized form of communication."
So given the prevalence of smartphones enabled with cameras and always-on web connections, what's an employer to do? Head off trouble at the pass, says Williams: "Proactive steps before the party occurs can do a lot of good."
Here, Williams relays her top tips for CorpCounsel.com readers:
1. Remind employees that existing company policies are in effect at the party. At the heart of the issue, employers don't want their employees to feel uncomfortable or harassed in the workplace. So reiterate to the workforce expectations on professional conduct and decorum. "Just as those policies apply in your office, they also apply at workplace events, such as the holiday party," Williams says.
2. Hire a professional photographer, or rent a photo booth. Employees will be too busy having fun mugging for someone else's camera to remember their own. "I think that takes the impetus away from people pulling out their own phones if they can ham it up in a photo booth," Williams says.
3. Select the venue carefully. In other words, don't hold the office party at a nightclub. Williams expounds: "If the holiday party is in a conference room that's within the office facilities, [employees] are subconsciously going to feel, 'Okay, we are still at work, this is a work-sponsored event. I'm going to conduct myself appropriately, as I would in the workplace.'"
4. Pick an inclusive theme. In case anyone hasn't gotten the PC-message yet, err on the side of throwing a "Holiday Party," not, say, a Christmas or Hanukkah party. "From an employee morale standpoint, employers want to focus on the inclusive, rather than the exclusive," Williams says. "Excluded folks may be disgruntled folks" and they may share those feelings on social media.
5. Limit alcohol consumption. Employers can manage or monitor alcohol consumption by distributing drink tickets, or instructing servers not to pour for those who've had too much. Timeless advice for the Instagram era: "Monitoring or managing the alcohol may lead to decreased [risk] exposure, just by virtue of the fact that everyone feels on their best behavior," says Williams.
Employers want to throw holiday gatherings to build camaraderie and provide a pleasant atmosphere for their workers. "They don't want to be in a situation, generally, where they're mandating, 'You can't do this, you can't take pictures at the holiday party'" Williams says. "But what I think they can do is put some guidelines in place to make sure that everyone has fun and acts appropriately."