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Blog - Why does bad behaviour at the Christmas party persist?

Why does bad behaviour at the Christmas party persist?

Posted by Tracy Powley 10/01/17

Inappropriate BehaviourAre you breathing a sigh of relief that the office party passed without incident? Or are you coming back to work knowing there are some difficult conversations to be had with people who overstepped the mark?

We noticed many more articles than usual in December (ours among them!) offering advice on preventing poor behaviour at the office party. And yet before the year was out a senior partner in a law firm had resigned over his drunken antics and Uber were communicating their “No Sex rule” to their drivers and riders!!!

And only one week into the New Year we have already received 3 enquiries relating to dealing with inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas do.

Despite all the advice, why does poor behaviour persist?

Alcohol clearly plays a large part in clouding judgment, but is there something more at play?

Recent research from Kai Chi Yam and Anthony Klotz draws on moral licensing theory to explain why being told or coerced into being “good” often drives the opposite behaviour. 

Their studies showed that employees who were externally compelled to be “good soldiers” at work were more likely to engage in “deviant” actions both inside and outside of work, such as “cursing at a co-worker or a stranger.” Doing good things gives us license to do bad things later. (Think how many of us respond to being “good” for a whole day on a diet, by allowing ourselves to eat more “bad” stuff the following day!)

For those employees who have felt compelled to be constantly trying to be positive and go the extra mile in their roles, perhaps the Christmas party provides the perfect outlet for allowing themselves to be “bad” – almost as a reward for all that effort at being good!

The researchers do make a distinction between people who are “intrinsically” motivated to show “good workplace behaviours” and those who feel they have to… and this also has a bearing on managing office party behaviour.

Issuing a policy or a set of behavioural guidelines on their own is unlikely to make a difference – in fact, if we believe the moral licensing theory, they will only serve to encourage the opposite behaviours in the long run.

Organisations need to invest time in discussing with their people the day to day behaviours which make a difference and then rewarding the “good” behaviour with praise and feedback. When people see the intrinsic value of behaving in a certain way, they are more likely to display that behaviour and avoid the pitfalls that moral licensing brings.

So, don’t just reissue or launch a policy in the run up to Christmas… take time to create an environment where “good” behaviour is valued as a matter of course and people see the value it brings.    

If you have had an incident of inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas party or would like some help in creating a more respectful working environment call us on 01903 732 782 or email us to discuss how we can help.

Tracy Powley
Tracy Powley

The way we behave towards each other in the workplace has a direct impact on individual wellbeing, team performance and organisational results. This belief has underpinned our work at Focal Point for over 20 years and has never been more relevant. We are privileged to work with a huge variety of organisations wanting to get workplace behaviour and culture right - and to tackle the inappropriate behaviour that may get in the way of this. Supported by our fantastic team of facilitators and coaches, we are able to make a real difference to peoples’ lives as well as organisational performance. Having worked in both large businesses at management level and in 2 start ups at director level, I am able to combine hands on experience of growing and managing teams - and the associated challenges in creating the right culture - with over 20 years in learning and development. I hold the Certificate in Training Practice and am a member of CIPD. When I am not supporting clients or developing the Focal Point business, you will find me in a calming yoga class...

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