Jim Duffy comment: Mistletoe #MeToo moment can ruin Christmas

Mistletoe can be helpful to conjure up that Christmas feeling around the office, but its use only leads to trouble for some.
People rightly feel more empowered now to complain about that unsolicited cuddle at the Christmas party, says Duffy. Picture: Contributed.People rightly feel more empowered now to complain about that unsolicited cuddle at the Christmas party, says Duffy. Picture: Contributed.
People rightly feel more empowered now to complain about that unsolicited cuddle at the Christmas party, says Duffy. Picture: Contributed.

I always found it insane that just because someone brought mistletoe to the office Christmas party they could use it as carte blanche to dare anyone to kiss them. Of course, when alcohol is added into the mix, people become braver, bolder and – let’s face it – more stupid. Meaning that mistletoe may hold even more imaginary power in combining office misfits in ­sharing a kiss. But, if you are a manager or have leadership responsibilities for others, what is the best way to conduct yourself at the office party?

The event can be fraught with danger for managers, team leaders, bosses, gaffers, directors and any other term you care to use to identify an individual who in their day job is accountable for the charge of others. I don’t know why it happens but, for some peculiar reason, many people leave their common sense back in the office.

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What one might term “normal people” from all areas of an organisation suddenly, at the Crimbo party and only at the Crimbo party, lose all sense of reality and do things that they would never even dream of on a regular Friday night. And in today’s world, litigation is just around the corner.

Only last week fashion house Ted Baker’s embattled boss Ray Kelvin announced a voluntary leave of absence following fresh allegations about his conduct. The ­business, which has its roots in Scotland, said its board had been made aware of “further serious allegations” about Kelvin’s behaviour, compounding earlier harassment accusations which included enforcing a “hugging” culture. Granted, these allegedly took place at work.

But, there has not been a single office Christmas party that I have been to in the last 20 years when some manager or ­director has not crossed the line and been “over friendly” with a female member of staff. Yes, drink has played a big part, but this type of behaviour is now being called out more often. People feel more ­empowered, and quite rightly so, to make a complaint about that unsolicited ­cuddle, peck on the cheek or hand around the waist at the Christmas party. Which leads to the question why have some managers, historically, found these actions acceptable at this particular event?

There has always been a power element to this kind of behaviour. The boss and middle managers, who may ignore ­others throughout the year, get a little drunk and still think they are in charge and can do and say as they like. They may feel less inhibited and wrongly believe that their “subordinates” will allow more flexibility in what is said and done. This has passed without too much fuss for decades. But, if I was a boss these days, I’d be as nervous as heck about the Christmas party. So much so that I’d do anything to get out of it. Not ­simply because I may make a prat of myself, but I might have to deal with others who do. If I do not, then I can land in trouble on Monday morning.

Maybe some of you are thinking that this all sounds a bit too bah humbug and serious. ­Perhaps, but just because it is a party, that does not mean that regular accepted ­standards of conduct should go out the ­window. The problem is that if they do, you as the gaffer, who were having a fun night, may have to deal with the fallout the next day, or actually play a starring role. Not an ideal way to kick off the Christmas holidays.

Certainly warning people before the night is worthwhile, although it can be perceived as harsh. But making sure that certain standards are noted and adhered to does no harm and can go a long way to ensuring that no ­reveller from the office suffers unwanted ­“mistletoe” approaches. I even know of some places where mistletoe was banned from the Christmas night out.

Now all that is said, have fun and don’t let the Christmas spirit get too out of hand…

- Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special