Company bosses have been urged to limit access to alcoholic drinks at work events to prevent staff acting inappropriately.
The Chartered Management Institute said businesses have a responsibility to protect their staff after conducting a survey of managers that found one in three had witnessed harassment or inappropriate behaviour at parties.
Ann Francke, chief executive of the institute, said socialising with colleagues represents “a great team-building opportunity” enjoyed by many people. But she added that businesses must take steps to keep unacceptable behaviour in check.
“That might mean adding additional activities alongside alcohol, limiting the amount of drinks available per person or ensuring that people who are drinking too much are prevented from acting inappropriately towards others,” Francke told the BBC.
The institute, a professional body focused on leadership, last month surveyed more than a thousand managers. Female bosses more likely than male bosses to have noticed problems at work parties. More than two in five managers said work events should be organised around activities that did not involve alcohol, a view most common among younger managers.
The survey comes after a number of businesses withdrew from the Confederation of British Industry or suspended their membership after allegations that a rape took place at one of its summer parties in 2019, plus other claims of sexual misconduct at the lobby group. A second allegation of rape subsequently emerged and police are investigating both.
Many businesses already view alcohol-fuelled work events as too much of a risk. Last year a survey of companies found that more than a third were abandoning or scaling back their work Christmas parties. The same survey suggested most employees would not mind the end of the festive tradition — provided employers spent their party budget on staff bonuses instead.
Alison Loveday, an employment lawyer and business consultant, said: “Boozy work parties are the exception rather than the rule today. They have become much reduced because there is a realisation that alcohol and lots of people doesn’t necessarily go well together.”
Yet many workers still appear to enjoy a boozy get-together and those that had Christmas parties last year sank more alcohol than ever, according to the retailer Majestic Wine. In December it reported that sales of mulled wine and champagne were up 140 and 28 per cent respectively. The bounce in demand partly reflects the lack of events in previous years because of pandemic restrictions.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a professional body for the human resource industry, believes the death of work get-togethers has been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, it predicts that social events for staff may become more important than ever because of the rise of hybrid working — although it noted that events need not involve alcohol. It warned that managers “must not neglect their legal and ethical responsibilities to keep employees safe”.