More companies are shunning holiday parties for fear of sexual harassment. But that’s not the best answer to combatting the problem.
Killing the party won’t fix the issue.
More than one in 10 employers (11%) will not hold an office holiday party this year, up from just 4% in 2016, according to a survey released Tuesday by staffing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That’s the highest percentage of companies to shun a holiday party since 2009, the survey found.
In 2009, the lack of office holiday shindigs was largely due to financial constraints amid the recession; this year it’s thanks, in part, to the “Weinstein effect,” says Andrew Challenger, the vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Employers are currently very wary of creating an environment where inappropriate contact between employees could occur.”
What’s more, the Weinstein-effect is also leading to less alcohol at the parties that do happen, says Challender. Indeed, fewer than half of companies say they will serve alcohol at their holiday parties this year, down from 62% who served it last year. That’s a “huge drop,” he adds.
On the one hand, it’s good that employers are recognizing that sexual harassment is prevalent and trying to prevent instances it may happen, as office holiday can be places that are “ripe for sexual harassment,” as the Guardian put it.
But on the other hand, simply killing the office holiday party — which about two-thirds of employees get excited about — may not be such a good answer.
For one, there are plenty of ways companies could try to create an office party free from sexual harassment, if they put in the extra effort. Challenger points out that this year fewer companies allow children and families to come to their holiday parties, but that’s one way to help create an environment less conducive to sexual harassment. Companies could also make sure their policies and punishments on sexual harassment were clear before the party (through meetings and reminders), appoint people to be on the lookout for inappropriate touching and other sexual harassment at the event, and put limits on the amount of alcohol served.
But perhaps more importantly, killing the office party merely removes one situation in which sexual harassment might happen, rather than trying to abolish the behavior before it starts. Indeed, not having an office party doesn’t inform employees about what constitutes sexual harassment, what’s not tolerated and the consequences of this behavior. That requires a clear, known policy about the company’s stance on sexual harassment, as well as training throughout the year that’s interactive, explores grey areas, and focuses on the severity of the consequences, as Moneyish reported here.
And shunning holiday parties also doesn’t establish an easy way for employees to report sexual harassment without fear of retribution, nor does it make clear the company’s zero-tolerance policy for such behavior — other essential parts of creating a safe office environment, experts say.
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