How to throw an office holiday party amid the focus on sexual harassment

WASHINGTON — The many high-profile sexual harassment cases that have come to light in the past few months have some companies laying out rules for the annual holiday gathering.

Bill Becker, an associate professor of management at Virginia Tech, said that this year many organizations are making it crystal-clear that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated, and he has advice on how to throw a safe, successful party.

Becker says managers should emphasize that this is a work function. That said, the main purpose of the gathering is to have “a time that we appreciate being a part of something together.”

Some companies are cancelling their gatherings, Becker said, but that’s a mistake. “Those parties actually play a real important role building a culture of togetherness and mutual appreciation between employees,” as well as showing employees management values them.

Becker’s other suggestions for managers planning the party:

  • Be extremely proactive when it comes to setting guidelines or limits regarding alcohol.
  • Hold the event in a family friendly setting.
  • Encourage spouses or significant others to attend the office gathering. Becker said it shows a respect for the spouse and how they support the worker on the home front.
  • Make it clear that attendance is optional and should not be considered a condition of employment. (If people feel someone’s taking a head count at the holiday gatherings, Becker said, that should tell you something about the company culture.)
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