Christmas in the workplace – should bosses pay for the staff party?

November 15, 2019

With the end of the year approaching, perhaps the office hot topic is planning the Christmas party – a chance for staff to let their hair down and the boss to foot the bill!

Being responsible for organising the work’s festive ‘do’ can be challenging enough, but for bosses there are other factors which can turn the event into a triumphant treat or make it a real turkey of an occasion.

Firstly, to pay or not to pay? According to research the majority of small to medium sized businesses in the private sector ask staff to contribute financially towards their own Christmas party, despite believing that the event is important for staff morale.

A survey carried out at the height of last year’s party season revealed that across the UK and Ireland, two fifths of office Christmas parties are fully paid for by the employer.

In 18 per cent of firms, the business does not contribute towards the cost of celebrations at all. However, over 86 per cent of senior managers across the country believe that this kind of event is important for staff morale. Similarly, 85 per cent think that the leadership team should attend.

Nel Woolcott, recruitment partner at Peterborough-based Anne Corder Recruitment, has this advice: “The Christmas party has long been a key date in the office calendar – giving staff and bosses alike the chance to let their hair down, socialise and celebrate the end of a year of hard work. Many employees expect their boss or manager to attend.

“Attitudes towards festivities vary when it comes to who pays. While there is no legal obligation for bosses to pay for their staff to enjoy a slap-up meal, few drinks and letting their hair down on the dance floor – many see footing the bill as a gesture of goodwill and recognition of their team’s efforts.

“In fact, if the employer provides one annual function for employees, no charge to tax arises provided that the average cost of the event per head does not exceed £150.

“However, in some cases, staff pay for their own drinks or an element of the party package; and as research has shown, some meet the full cost of the celebratory night out.”

And then there is the potential for the morning after the night before awkwardness which could arise from inappropriate social media posts or lateness/absence from the office.

Nel added: “Aside from who foots the bill, workplace Christmas parties also bring up issues of conduct and discrimination. For example, employees may misbehave, or fail to turn up the next day.

“With a bit of preparation, there’s no reason why the annual tie-loosener shouldn’t be remembered for anything more offensive than the MD’s Christmas jumper!”

Some tips for bosses and companies to keep in the Christmas spirit inside of being a party pooper:

  • Remind everyone of your policies – send a note round on the day of the party just so people know the company rules apply outside the office too
  • Have a dress code – it helps to keep things professional
  • Hand out drinks tokens – it might help regulate consumption. Your employees can use these at an open bar; once they’ve run out they can buy their own drinks
  • Arrange taxis or a minibus – or if funds don’t allow, at least make sure everyone can get home after. Finishing before the last train leaves helps, too
  • Make sure your various employers’ and directors’ liability insurances are up to date
  • Make it clear that offensive and inappropriate social media posts could have a detrimental effect on individuals or the business in general – and therefore could results in a disciplinary matter
  • Make clear your expectations of party goers returning to work on time the following morning!