Caution advised at Christmas parties

Ian McAndrew
Ian McAndrew
The annual Christmas party is not the time to "liquor up and take up a grudge with management or that annoying colleague", a university researcher warns.

Some end-of-year work functions can  spark alcohol-fuelled aggression, sexual behaviour or harassment and lead to complaints, injuries and even staff being fired.

Those are among the findings of a new University of Otago survey of about 800 workers  throughout the country and more than 200 employers, undertaken last year.

The research highlighted the need for care in running work-related end-of-year  functions where alcohol is provided.

The study was led by Associate Prof Ian McAndrew and Dr Fiona Edgar,  of the Otago Business School’s department of management, and Dr Trudy Sullivan, of preventive and social medicine.

Almost three-quarters of the respondents reported that work social functions had alcohol available, mostly wholly or partly paid for by the employer.

Prof McAndrew said most people in the study had had  no significant problems from alcohol availability at work events.

Employees generally enjoyed alcohol in responsible moderation around managers and workmates. But many cases of inappropriate behaviour were also reported, and some had major consequences for staff members and employers.

The study noted embarrassing and often annoying behaviour that risked damaging an employee’s reputation, or causing harm.

Examples included "doing wheelies around the works yard, pushing someone into a swimming pool, or passing out in the bathroom".

Prof McAndrew said Christmas parties were not the place to "liquor up and take up a grudge with management or that annoying colleague".

Sexual harassment could also occur when too much alcohol relaxed inhibitions.

Twenty percent of employee respondents reported seeing work festivities go awry when staff overindulged, and a quarter of employer respondents reported dealing with inappropriate behaviour.

Two damaging behaviours were aggression and sexual behaviour or harassment. Some people had  "lost their jobs through either aggressive or sexually oriented behaviours".

The researchers said their study sent a clear signal to employers to act responsibly, given they were responsible to "keep their employees safe at work events". For employees, the message was clear — "know and keep to your limits and stay well within them".

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