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So you made a d*ck of yourself at the office Christmas party. Here's what to do.

Sore head. Red eyes. Remnants of eyeliner. Coffee in hand.

These are the telltale signs of a shell of a human rocking up to work the morning after going too hard at the office Christmas party.

These specimens come out of hibernation at Christmas time when most workplaces reward their staff for a year of hard work with some sort of party. Most of the time involving alcohol.

Jokes aside, the combination of an open bar, not enough food and over-excited or aggrieved staff doesn’t always end well.

Sometimes, you might get a bit loud or sloppy. Other times, you might make a mistake at the Christmas party that really doesn’t sit right with you or someone you work with the next day.

On a regular night out with your friends, a sorry text or a coffee catch up would normally do the trick in resolving things depending on what you said or did. But offences at office Christmas parties are different and could potentially impact your job.

To find out what qualifies as a Christmas party offence that needs to be formally addressed, and the best way to go about doing so, we asked a HR expert for a step-by-step guide of how to proceed.

Why bad things happen at Christmas parties.

Alcohol. And… feelings.

“Not understanding the Christmas party isn’t a magical blanket that’s different from the office is the problem. What happens on camp does not stay on camp. Most people think that’s the case, but it’s not the reality,” BespokeHR Managing Director Paulette Kolarz told Mamamia.

“Drinking too much is 100 per cent an issue, and the end of year mixture with alcohol is also seen as an opportunity for people for vent, but it’s not. If you’ve had a really heavy year and put a bit of alcohol with that, what we see is the frustration of the year coming out. The Christmas party is the wrong time to do that.”

In Kolarz’s 15 plus years of experience in HR, she said issues can arise when people who don’t normally drink or feel socially awkward or uncomfortable decide to drink to feel more confident. Social media has also muddied the Christmas party waters because when things get recorded or posted online, it’s near impossible to forget about them.

That doesn’t mean you can’t drink or let loose at the Christmas party, but it’s about getting the balance right.

“Christmas parties are about being social and attending, because that’s important from the employer’s perspective, but it’s knowing the difference between what’s appropriate and what’s not.”

“It’s about your personal brand. Look at how you want to be described by your colleagues and bosses, and how you act at the Christmas party should be no different.”

Side note – anonymous employees share the worst thing they’ve ever done at a work Christmas party. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC
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What to do if you stuffed up at the Christmas party.

1. Figure out whether you’ve done something ‘wrong’.

Most of us are familiar with the feeling of waking up after a night out drinking and knowing you’ve stuffed up. It’s the same with Christmas party offences, but there is a difference between doing something embarrassing and doing something that will affect your job.

“The line is grey between someone going out and thinking they’re the life of the party, being loud or sloppy, and offending someone, humiliating someone, harassing someone or abusing someone’s trust. If everyone’s like ‘wow’, she’s unleashing’, that might be embarrassing but it’s not necessarily doing damage,” Kolarz said.

“Hand on heart, you know if you’ve gone too far or not. If you’ve got to the point where you can’t remember [what happened], that’s 100 per cent a problem. We know that if people don’t remember what they’ve done, you can guarantee something inappropriate somewhere along the line has happened.”

The most common offences that occur at Christmas parties that do need to be addressed include:

  • Sexual harassment, assault or misrepresenting yourself in a sexual manner.
  • Interoffice gossip, bullying or exclusion issues.
  • Breaching confidentiality expectations around your role or speaking about confidential matters in front of staff who aren’t meant to be privy to that information.
  • Disrespecting your direct report or senior people within the business.
  • Misrepresenting the company or your employer in front of clients or colleagues.
  • Your partner or plus one misrepresenting you or disrespecting your colleagues or boss.

Essentially, if it will impact what happens at work, it’s an issue.

“We would have a run of terminations over December and January, and they would mostly be linked to [employees] misrepresenting themselves in an inappropriate sexual manner with a client or staff member, misrepresenting the company to a client, bitching about the employer to other people, all at the Christmas party.”

“If something happens after the Christmas party at an after party, damage can still be done. That’s the worst part we see, the stuff that happens after the Christmas party.”

In particular, Kolarz said inappropriate sexual behaviour will not fly this year like it may have in the past.

“People are talking about sexual harassment in the workplace more than ever now with #MeToo. In prior years, there may have been leeway, but this year we will certainly see a lower, if not zero tolerance to [sexual harassment].”

2. Take responsibility as soon as possible.

Kolarz’s recommendation is to act immediately and address the issue as soon as possible, whether that be the morning after or on the next business day if the party falls on a Friday evening.

“If you have done something wrong, or something erring on the side of doing something wrong, which could be anything from offending someone, embarrassing the employer, or worse, I recommend they deal with it straight away.”

“The issues we get when people immediately come and apologies and take responsibility early are the ones that get solved quickly. The ones that don’t, that we get in January when they’ve had two weeks at home, they’ve mulled over it, they’ve got really anxious, they become a really big problem.”

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The size and structure of your workplace will determine who you speak to first about the issue. If you’re a smaller team, it might be the owner or the most senior person. In a slightly bigger business, it could be your manager. If you have a HR department, go to them first.

“Get on the front foot, apologise and take responsibility as quickly as possible. Let the person you speak to know that what you did isn’t OK. Even if you think you might’ve done something wrong and aren’t sure, you can always say, if you’re aware of any issues, don’t hesitate to let me know and I can take responsibility.”

“The excuse of ‘I had too much to drink’ isn’t good enough… it pretty much doesn’t matter what state you were in, it doesn’t condone bad behaviour.”

Kolarz doesn’t recommend going directly to the person involved as they might not want to speak to you, or might not be receptive to an apology. If you’re comfortable with the person, you can apologise to them directly, but otherwise ask a HR person or your manager to help facilitate the conversation.

Mamamia Out Loud is the podcast with what women are talking about. We discuss this week what you’re certainly not allowed to do at a Christmas party, along with the alleged Fortnite assault, and why seals are suddenly snorting eels. Post continues below.

3. Avoid email communication.

The biggest piece of advice Kolarz gives is to avoid addressing any issues over email if at all possible. Like all written communications, there is too much room for misinterpretation.

“I’m a big one for face to face if you can, and as quickly as you can, because you can produce an element of sincerity far better in person,” she said.

This means going up to whoever you’d like to raise the issue with in person and asking them for five or 10 minutes of their time.

4. Accept the consequences.

At the end of the day, all Christmas party offences will have some sort of consequence, whether that be a tarnish on your reputation or dismissal from the company. While bringing up an issue quickly and taking responsibility will help, it won’t exclude you from facing consequences.

Kolarz added, “Depending on the seriousness of the offence – assault, something illegal – it doesn’t matter whether you come forward or not, it won’t stop the consequences.”

So, can you have fun at the Christmas party or should you stay home?

“If you read and adhered to all the HR and legal guidelines for Christmas parties, no one would go to them and businesses wouldn’t put them on,” Kolarz said.

The main things you can do to prevent putting yourself in a compromising position is a) view the Christmas party as a work event, not a night out, and b) pace yourself with alcohol.

In other words, save the wine boozing and venting for another time.

Do you have any Christmas party advice, or horror stories? tell us in the comments!

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