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Sober Chaperones

Since the #metoo movement,behaviours in the workplace have come under intense scrutiny and  now with the Christmas period upon us some companies have taken the pre-emptive step of issuing guidelines to staff ahead of time to avoid the pitfalls and the scandals that can ensue.  Some have even taken the step of insisting that two staff members are assigned as “sober chaperones,” tasked with staying sober for the night and ensuring that everyone gets home safely.

Many will feel that this is taking things too far, but this statistic  suggests otherwise. Are there real issues of safety and concern at the Christmas party that need a different management approach? Is it the case that we are  happy to take up a position of judgement when someone behaves badly in these situations but slow to take steps to prevent it, by taking on some new strategies  that challenge some of our laid-back, laissez-faire, have the craic attitudes.

If we’re honest the verbal spats or inappropriate behaviours that lead to problems, usually have an “excess of alcohol” component to them, whether at a home party or a Christmas party.Another Irish based survey of 2000 workers, one third of them revealed that they had drank “too much” at the Christmas party. 1 in10 said that they had kissed a colleague at the party and 17% of them said that they were red-faced because of something they shouldn’t have said or because of someone they kissed.Every year,I’m called into some organisation where the Christmas party has gone spectacularly wrong or where some relationships have been compromised and need resetting. Has alcohol contributed to the problems that occurred? In all cases I can say, emphatically yes!The reality is that the Christmas party has the potential to be a disaster and that sober chaperones may become much more the norm as employers field the risks of this jolly time of year.The  “sober chaperone”policy has been brought in by BDO, UK’s largest  accounting firm, Explaining that it is being done to protect potentially vulnerable staff and to improve behaviour and culture following a series of scandals there. . BDO’s, Chief Operating officer said “I know these precautionary measures might sound slightly excessive to some but I think they are sensible for the well-being of people”

The benefit of the christmas party is that it can help relationships to deepen and broaden and can help staff to feel appreciated by management. But good workplace relations are based around roles that have clear boundaries, where each one respects and acknowledges the strengths and authority of the other. Bending and blurring that clarity can cause difficulties on return to work. It is up to each and every staff member and management alike to be realistic about the risks and the consequences of bad behaviour and it is important,in my view that guidelines are given of what is expected of people so that the party  is a success and not a disaster for anyone. 

Relationships and affairs often begin with work colleagues and the Christmas party can be the place where that spark becomes ignited. It is known that 36% of affairs occur with work colleagues and that over 25% of couples meet their long term partner at work. 

Even where the romance blossoms wonderfully there are always complications where colleagues feel that confidences may be breached, or there may be envy or doubt about promotionsIf, for example, a manager becomes amorous with a staff member, this can change how other staff view him /her back in the workplace. Additionally one has to ask if the disparity of power and position impacts just how free a staff member may feel to say no to the bosses advances? Will there be a difficulty for the staff member who rebuffs or refuses those advances? If accepted ,andthe relationship becomes  known to other colleagues, are those relationships affected. If it all comes to nothing, how does the awkwardness get handled? Will someone need to change transfer or leave? 

When there are no issues of reporting structures and two colleagues simply are attracted to each other, they may indeed take matters forward at the Christmas party,kissing and cuddling under the metaphorical, if not literal Mistletoe. Recognising that  some things can go wrong and taking steps to prevent that is not about spoiling the party,in fact it’s about ensuring it’s success.

A “sober chaperone”could have the added benefit of acting like a host ensuring not only the safety of those attending but could also protect the most vulnerable in the social context including them and encouraging them into conversation and pre- empting any hatassment issues.

Many people dread the Christmas party and feel obliged to attend not wanting to be the party pooper. They may be shy, socially anxious, or have a domestic situation that makes it difficult for them. Those  with alcohol issues find it especially difficult to keep with their pledge over this period. I have worked with the embarrassed employee, the broken hearted spouse and the manager who has compromised themselves at a Christmas party. Often it is not possible to heal the damage that has been done even with professional support and intervention.If you’ve told your boss how bad or ineffective he/she is, then an apology will help, but that relationship is changed forever. A one night stand that threatens a marriage or long-term relationship  breaks a trust that is very difficult to recover.Stripping off or dancing on the tables is an unforgettable image that does not suggest that you are a reliable staff member to send to represent your organisation anywhere and wont be forgotten.Guidelines for the party can help with behaviour and alcohol consumption, llaying down  expectations regarding standards of behaviour.

A “sober chaperone” doesn’t sound like a very Irish solution but it has some merit and may be worth considering.