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November 17, 2006

Staff safety neglected during party season

Most businesses don’t help their employees get home safely after the company Christmas party, claims research by Hotel Brokers International (HBI).

The conference and event organisation polled more than 500 of its key clients, including decision makers from human resources, marketing communications, finance and specialist event departments, during the run up to the 2005 festive season. The survey covered a broad range of organisations, with 65% of those questioned representing FTSE-250 companies, and the remainder consisting of small to medium-sized businesses and associations.

The findings make alarming reading. Initially, companies were asked which had the biggest influence over the choice of Christmas party venue, the theme or transport links. More than 70% of respondents said the theme was more important along with what was included in the price. “With many venues offering a themed event to include dinner and ‘open bar’, the quantity of food and drinks were definitely the deciding factors over employee safety,” concluded the report.

With the accessibility of the venue clearly taking second place, would companies compensate for this by providing staff assistance in getting home – especially with most parties not ending until the early hours. The research suggested the answer to this question was a resounding ‘no’, with 85% of respondents saying their companies did not offer transport assistance to employees after the Christmas party, despite the event being work-related.

In contrast, 90% of the companies polled said employees who worked late in the office were entitled to take a taxi home. “While the times ranged between organisations,” said the report, “it was generally felt that this was an important part of employee welfare.”

Commenting on the results, HBI’s managing director Des Mclaughlin said: “When we carried out the research we didn’t appreciate how few organisations looked beyond the call of ‘last orders’ at the party. Organisations need to give far greater consideration to their Health and Safety at Work policies, after all it is they that are responsible for their staff safety and security, not just in the work place, but when they are off site too. Mandating attendance should also mean that employee welfare is taken into consideration through the provision of a safe means of transport home.”

There’s also a potential risk of litigation from those employees who do not manage to get home safely. “Companies could be at risk if it can be established that there is a close connection between work and the social event,” said Guy Hollebon, a solicitor at legal employment experts Bevans. “The more remote the location of the venue for the party, the higher the risk.”

With employees encouraged to partake in business’s annual celebrations, it would appear that the line between work and pleasure has become blurred. This is particularly pertinent at a time when employee welfare should be paramount in the light of the difficulty to recruit skilled staff and, therefore, the importance of retaining those employees you do have – not to mention the moral issues and potential danger of litigation.

If companies are going to treat their employees to bigger and better Christmas parties and other motivational events, as appears to be the trend, then failing to help to get them home safely could leave a sour taste in the mouth of staff, undermining the ‘Feelgood Factor’ the event was supposed to generate in the first place. As ever, the essence of a successful event is in the detail.

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