Christmas parties can go ahead – but will accountants attend?by
The government might think holding Christmas parties is a good idea, but with the rise in Omicron cases, is the annual festive gathering a good idea for the traditionally risk-averse accountant?
The pandemic has a mischievous habit of making fools of us all. No sooner had I conceived the idea of writing about Christmas parties 2021 style than the Omicron variant rolled along and forced a rethink.
The government's move to Plan B in England and a return to home working and Covid passes has thrown further doubt on accountancy firms' festive gatherings. In midst of the 10 Downing Street 2020 Christmas party scandal, Boris Johnson assured party goers that festive work dos are still allowable under the new Plan B guidance.
The pros and cons of holding a Christmas party
Even before the advent of the pandemic, many firms had begun looking at the pros and cons of holding Christmas parties.
On one level, these are wonderful bonding exercises that can pay massive dividends in terms of cohesion and morale.
Denigrators would point to the fact that there are very costly, often lead to staff absence or underperformance in ensuing days and, in extreme circumstances, could occasionally directly or indirectly end up with termination of employment.
Ironically, the departing worker could be either a perpetrator of bad behaviour, a victim of the same or merely to embarrassed to show their face again after saying the wrong thing to the wrong person thereby killing career progression stone dead.
In recent straitened times, partners have often decided that rather than paying top dollar for a Christmas celebration, a summer party or possibly an event in January, when employees really needed a psychological boost with the long winter months ahead, ticked more boxes.
On this last point, readers may have spotted a recent news article about a Big Four partner who having avoided the pitfall of making an inappropriate approach to an employee at a Christmas party, did so on a firm-sponsored ski trip with devastating consequences for all concerned.
The need to reunite with colleagues
While not too many firms seriously considered taking their staff on overseas jaunts, the prospect of a restaurant or hotel dinner had practically become a desired element of the rewards package offered by most firms.
But these celebrations and gatherings were put on hold in 2020, with the country effectively locked down right through the Christmas period and all and sundry fearful of mixing with their peers.
A couple of weeks ago we had already reached the uncomfortable position where offices were beginning to open, albeit with staff typically operating from home for at least half of their working time. But those running practices were also becoming increasingly aware that, regardless of the joys of Zoom and its equivalents, the team ethic that had been of such great value could be very hard to maintain when you may not meet colleagues for days, weeks or even months.
That made what would effectively be a reunion Christmas party a particularly attractive prospect.
Covid is out of control
Even then, while the government seem to be in denial, coronavirus was running out of control with something like 300,000 people catching the virus every week. Early analysis suggesting cases could be doubling at a rate of as little as 2.5 to three days
Then, bizarrely, Omicron arrived with a bang. If we knew for a fact that the consequences were negligible, that would be one thing but in the run-up to Christmas it is unclear whether this new variant is likely to lead to mass hospitalisation and death or not.
I don’t want to suggest that any minister of state is insane but anyone in their right minds on hearing experts confirming that the virus variant might be three to six times more transmissible than the already deadly Delta were not treated as something to be laughed off.
That is effectively what has happened, as our PM and his compatriots have practically demanded people hold and attend Christmas parties, even if they were not planning to do so in the first place. As for snogging under the mistletoe…
It doesn’t take a genius to work out the facile underlying rationale. This has nothing to do with the safety of you, your colleagues or their families. Instead, it is a desperate attempt to protect the hospitality industry, at whatever cost.
Christmas party precautions
I have only received one invitation to attend the Christmas party this year and politely declined to go anywhere near an event that could prove to be impossibly dangerous.
For those that do still intend to indulge in a bonding exercise this Christmas, a number of precautions might be implemented to limit the risk of creating a super spreader event.
While it might limit the spirit of the gesture, rather than having an office-wide party attended by a large number of people, breaking them down into units might be sensible.
You could also consider limiting invitations to those who can prove that they have had their two coronavirus jabs and, where relevant, the booster. The alternative to this might be demanding proof of recent negative test.
Finally, accountants love dressing up and it is not unknown to have a theme or even go for fancy dress. For Christmas 2021, how about instituting a competition for the most memorable mask?
Whichever way you choose to go, have fun but also take care.
In light of the recent government Plan B announcement, are you still going ahead with your office Christmas party? Are you making alternative arrangements with your work colleagues?