What not to do at the work Christmas party

  • 05/12/2017

A new study shows that when alcohol is involved at work functions, things can go south very quickly.

A University of Otago survey of 1000 Kiwi employers and employees found that three quarters of respondents were provided with alcohol at work-related events, mostly wholly or partially paid for by their employer.

While most of those surveyed said people generally enjoyed alcohol in moderation at work functions, 20 percent of employee respondents said they had witnessed co-workers overindulging to the point of engaging in embarrassing behaviour.

Meanwhile 25 percent of employers reported having encountered inappropriate behaviour at work events.

The study was conducted in 2016 and was led by Professor Ian McAndrew from Otago's Business School, who said the two most harmful types of behaviour typically witnessed at work functions were aggression and sexual behaviour.

"We have recorded instances where there has been damage to property at the workplace or at hospitality venues, physical or emotional injury or people have lost their jobs through either aggressive or sexually-oriented behaviours," he said.

Instances of such behaviour has even led to people being prosecuted, he said.

"Alcohol at work functions has damaged careers and relationships."

Respondents were asked to share their own stories of alcohol-fuelled misbehaviour, of which 187 employees did. The sheer number of reported incidents sends a clear message to employers to take responsibility  for their employees' safety around alcohol, Professor McAndrew said.

"There is a responsibility on employers to keep their employees safe at work events, even if work functions like the Christmas party are off-site or out of hours," he said.

"The key to avoiding behaviour that could offend is responsible hosting and establishing appropriate drinking norms for social events."

Under New Zealand's occupational health and safety laws, employers must provide employees with a safe workplace, and this extends to work-related social events.

The University of Otago says this festive season, employees should know their alcohol tolerance and keep well within their limits to avoid behaviour that could come back to bite them.