Margery McBain, MD of Gravitate HR

Christmas and New Year can be a really happy time for parties, get togethers, present swapping, and taking time to chill out and relax.

At work it can be time to entertain clients and contacts. For some of us it can feel like the festivities seem to last from the middle of December to the second week in January, which can feel unproductive and bring with it a unique set of issues. So how can you turn that down time into useful time and avoid some of the pitfalls of the party season?

1. Be clear and agree business opening hours and statutory and other holidays to fit with your business needs. This needs to be communicated well in advance so that rosters and holiday requests can be managed if employees are required to use holiday entitlement to cover business closure.

2. Make sure that everybody gets a fair chance to have time off and one department or group of people are not disadvantaged whilst covering essential business contingencies.

3. If customer demand is down, use the time to plan for 2012, reviewing and setting objectives for the coming year. The end of a year is an excellent time to review the past 12 months, acknowledge achievements and address opportunities for development. Setting objectives for 2012 should give you a clearer focus for the start of the new calendar year.

4. Reward your staff — it doesn’t have to be the proverbial party or boozy bash. There are plenty of alternatives which can be just as rewarding, productive and more fun. You could arrange a team building exercise either in or out of the business or an away day to learn new skills — we are thinking of improving our cooking skills.

5. Be aware of the pitfalls of party time. You could be held responsible for the potential (mis)conduct of your employees and it is not uncommon that disciplinary action is required after a party. Think about access to alcohol; limits of safe drinking; travel and transport arrangements for getting home after events as well as the broader reputation of your business should anyone misbehave.

6. Reward does not have to be expensive — it could be as simple as giving a bit of time off or flexibility to do last minute shopping.

7. Some businesses review salary and bonus arrangements at the end of the year. Take time to work through a budget for salary costs and agree a process for arriving at revised salaries. Consider how best to verbally communicate your salary decision so that it is received positively and follow up in writing as this is technically an alteration to terms and conditions and a copy should be retained in the employee file.

8. Be sensitive to religious and other cultural preferences during the period and consider requests fairly and consistently to avoid potential discrimination.

9. Address absence issues and manage employees who arrive at work unfit for work following a “heavy” night. Just because it is holiday season you should not avoid return to work meetings or allow employees to represent your business if they are not fit for work. Presenteeism at work is estimated to cost business more than absenteeism!

10. Think through the giving and receiving of corporate gifts and entertainment. The Bribery Act came into force on 1st October and you have an obligation to put procedures in place to prevent bribery from taking place — having clear guidelines in place is a good place to start.

Most of all have a great time — DON’T be a scrooge and enjoy the best of the season.