December 04, 2017

Is the "Weinstein effect" forcing firms to review office Christmas party culture?

Is the "Weinstein effect" forcing firms to review office Christmas party culture?

Following two months of revelations concerning workplace sexual harassment, there is evidence that many employers are reviewing their office Christmas party plans in order to ensure that their annual festive celebration does not contribute to the problem.

With Christmas parties often involving a mixture of out-of-hours socializing and alcohol, the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) has warned that this can create an environment in which employees feel that the normal rules of workplace behavior do not apply. They have issued advice that managerial staff should supervise festivities and be tasked to intervene in the case of inappropriate conduct, as well as suggesting that mistletoe should not be hung up in the office and that actions should be made to limit excessive consumption of alcohol.

Elsewhere a survey released by US consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas has suggested that slightly more than half of organizations will be holding alcohol-free events this year (50.3%, versus 38% last year), and that nearly three times as many companies compared to last year will forgo celebrations entirely (11.3%, versus 4% last year)—the highest number in ten years. There is also suggestion from US catering firms that many companies are forgoing after-work events and those focused around alcohol in favor of lunchtime celebrations.

Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, described the findings as “really dramatic.”  

“There’s no economic reason right now that we see these holiday parties being scaled back, and that’s why we think it could be an anomaly caused by the Weinstein effect,” he said.

Last week, Vox Media (whose editorial director was recently fired for sexual harassment) became one high profile example of an organization making such changes, after the announcement that its Christmas party would have a two-alcoholic-drink limit was widely shared.

“We recognize that even though alcohol isn’t always the reason for unprofessional behavior,” the note said, “but creating an environment that encourages overconsumption certainly contributes to it.”

Writing for IZA World of Labor, Joni Hersch says that “legislation prohibiting workplace sexual harassment is widespread, but that too has been inadequate to eliminate it. Enforcement of laws relies on reporting, and therefore underreporting weakens the efficacy of laws.”

She therefore recommends that “[p]olicies directed at increasing reporting may help support law enforcement and could also reinforce the incentives provided by the market.”

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