I talk a lot about how important it is for companies to have a sense of camaraderie among co-workers, and often a Christmas party can be a great place for these bonds to be forged over drinks and food and in a festive atmosphere.
The unfortunate side effect of drink is, however, that it becomes easy to give or take offence, or find yourself in trouble the next day. My main takeaway is that you really focus on setting some degree of understanding about what is expected of everyone.
Here are my suggestions:
Define what is acceptable and unacceptable
You need to be realistic about what is acceptable and communicate it clearly ahead of the party. Hopefully this will mean you're not sat there on the night feeling disappointed in your employees' behaviour. A Christmas party is not the right time to be pulling people up on their behaviour so ideally people will do some self-policing if they know what's expected of them.
One thing to consider is your own behaviour. If you're leading the drinking, then you'll inevitably set the tone.
In fact, for a lot of managers, showing their face early on and then leaving everyone to it is one way to be part of the team while maintaining a little bit of distance from events later in the night.
Thursday is a very popular night for Christmas parties, but this also means that the Friday is... "interesting" for the company. You certainly can't tolerate drunkenness on site, nor can you condone people driving in to work while still under the influence. It may be that you give latitude to people to come in a little late.
But: if your business can't afford for that sort of leeway, then you have to make that clear to the team. If it's necessary for everyone to be in on time and in good shape, you must communicate that to them in advance so that they have some idea of how you expect them to behave.
Although a Christmas party is usually out of working hours- as the employer you're still responsible. You have a duty of care towards your employees and may be held vicariously liable if someone behaves inappropriately.
Make it clear
Whatever you decide, don't keep it to yourself. If people know where they stand - they can abide by the rules you set. If you say that 'anything goes' then your moral authority to take action the next day is diminished.
So, send a note to all reminding them of your policies around conduct, representing the company, alcohol use and - increasingly - drugs.
Spell out what behaviour will be deemed unacceptable - whether it's being disrespectful of coworkers, coming into work still under the influence, or bringing the company into ill-repute.
Finally, explain what sanctions you will take to anyone who breaks the codes of behaviour. This could vary in seriousness, all the way up to dismissal for particularly egregious conduct, so it's absolutely critical that this message is clear.
Act when needed
If you've made your position clear and someone has still mis-judged how they should behave, then you have to act and do so fast. It is no good waiting till the new year to tell someone that they have failed to live up to expectations. By then it will seem to be "ancient history" to them and they may wonder what all the fuss is about.
If you don't act, you are effectively saying that you have standards but won't do anything to enforce them. And once you've set that pattern for yourself as well as for them, it becomes more difficult to set standards for future events - or even letting things get worse.
I give these tips with the best possible intentions. Everyone deserves the chance to relax at Christmas and as I said at the outset in can be a great chance for your team to bond. However, I can guarantee that almost nobody would trade a good night out for their job, so it's important that everything is clear, precise and well policed.
I am more than happy to help with any of the above. If you need practical help clarifying your position to employees, give me a call. If you find yourself in the unhappy position of dealing with point 3 I can most definitely help with that.