Holiday Party Problem Prevention Strategy


Well, it’s that time of year. We will see so many posts about how people should behave at holiday parties. We’ll see the thread-of-emails jokes from HR to the organization that starts with announcing the Christmas Party to announcing that there will be no formal gathering whatsoever.

Do you have, or have you considered, an HR PPS? That would be a Problem Prevention Strategy.

First of all, let’s be clear about something that has bugged me for a long time. We call HR in when there are conflicts, disagreements, or problems between people in an organization. But that doesn’t warrant calling all such situations “HR Issues”.  They are people issues. Things that happen when people share a workspace. It just so happens that we look to HR to sort things out and make sure the impact of these issues is minimized or mitigated. After the fact.

This is why many people feel that HR is not your friend. That their interest is not “justice for you”, but in avoiding problems for the company.

Here’s an idea: Don’t bring in HR when things get bad, bring them in before bad things happen. Create an expectation that employees check in with them once in a while.

Ideally, here’s how it would work. Let’s use NBC. It would look something like this: Matt Lauer walks into the HR office to speak to the HR director responsible for his team.

“Hi Maria,” says Matt.  “Hey, I want to run something by you. I really like a couple of my producers. They are kind of cute and one has a shape I just can’t get out of my mind. But, before I act on my urges, I wanted to check with you. Do you think it would be ok if I locked my door from my secret button and then propositioned them? I mean, I’m Matt Lauer. Everyone loves me. I think they would really appreciate the opportunity I am offering.”

Maria takes a deep breath. “Well, Matt. I can see why you might think that. With your big paycheck and all. But these people work here to pay their bills and build their future. They didn’t come working here hoping to be locked in a room with you, so no, I don’t think that would be a good idea. It also makes you look like kind of an ass.”

Matt ponders this for a bit and says “I see what you mean, I think. I guess I’ll just have to look for love outside of 30 Rock. Thanks for enlightening me.”

Side note – the same behavior outside of work is still bad behavior.

If your organization is having a holiday party, try something new! Have a couple of your most trusted managers, maybe even someone from HR at a designated table. Call it the “continued employment advice” table. Require that everyone checks in with you when they arrive, and provide them a three point reality check:

  1. Your co-workers are here for free food and maybe free drink. If they have never expressed an interest in you before, there is nothing magical about this evening that will change that.
  2. If you are already married or partnered, please act as though your significant other is by your side this evening. This is not a hall pass event. It is a chance to be with your co-workers to unwind, not undress.
  3. We like you. That’s why we hired you, that’s why we retain you. You do good work. You show problems solving skills. You help make this company profitable. We don’t want to have to part ways with you because suddenly you got stupid and made bad choices. So if you were hoping that tonight was your big chance to impress that clerk in accounting, maybe you should just go home instead of proving us wrong about our interest in maintaining your employment.

That’s it. Face-to-face tell people not to be stupid, and the incidence of stupidity goes way down. Maybe not to zero, but down.

To all my friends in HR, here’s to an uneventful holiday period. You have enough on your plates without dealing with stupidity and egos.