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Christmas working and celebrations survey 2018

Author: Michael Carty

XpertHR research looks at employers' arrangements for work, rest and celebrations over the Christmas period.

Employers can promote good employee relations and create a positive seasonal atmosphere by ensuring that employees are able to celebrate Christmas with their colleagues and to rest, recuperate and spend time with their families over the festive period. But it is essential to take steps to ensure that the workplace is well resourced if it remains open over Christmas, and that any seasonal celebrations run smoothly and safely.

As employers begin planning events for their employees to mark the end of another busy year, XpertHR has surveyed 262 employers to investigate their plans and budgets for seasonal celebrations, and how they seek to ensure good conduct at these events.

Christmas and New Year opening plans

Chart 1 shows the specific days on which workplaces will be fully open, partially open or fully closed over the 2018/2019 Christmas and New Year period.

Unsurprisingly, the most common dates for full closures coincide with the seasonal bank holidays. Four-fifths of employers will be fully closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and/or New Year's Day. The most common days on which employers will be partially open are Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

However, some organisations cannot halt their operations for Christmas. Just over one in 20 (6.1% of our sample) will be fully open over the entire Christmas and New Year period. These organisations include hospitals, care homes, airports and freight companies.

Chart 1: Christmas and New Year opening 2018/2019

Chart 1: Christmas and New Year opening 2018/2019

n = 262 organisations.
Source: XpertHR.

About this survey report

This report covers key findings from the XpertHR survey on Christmas working and celebrations for 2018.

XpertHR's benchmarking service has the full data for all questions from the survey, including data breakdowns by factors such as broad industry sector and organisation size.

Benchmarking subscribers can additionally access exclusive written details of:

Christmas resourcing and annual leave

Managing staffing levels over Christmas and New Year can be a challenge. Employers must achieve a balance between allowing employees to take time off to spend with their families and ensuring that essential work is done.

More than one-third (35.9%) of employers report that one or more groups of employees are required to work when the organisation is closed over the Christmas period. Employee groups commonly required to work at these times include maintenance staff, security staff and IT/tech staff.

Turning to arrangements for granting time off over Christmas, two-fifths (42.5%) of employers will count the time that their organisation is closed over the 2018/2019 Christmas and New Year period as part of an employee's basic annual leave entitlement. A further quarter (26.3%) count this time as "company days" on top of annual leave, and one-eighth (12.2%) as a mix of annual leave and company days.

Just under one-third (29.8%) of employers have a policy or special arrangements in place for requesting and allocating annual leave over the Christmas period when the organisation has to remain open. A small number of employers prioritise the granting of annual leave requests from employees who were unable to take leave over Christmas the previous year. A further two employers do not permit employees to book Christmas leave until October (when the organisation has a clear idea of its Christmas resourcing commitments); and one employer requires that employees book Christmas leave 12 months in advance.

Subscribers to XpertHR Benchmarking can access exclusive written details of the Christmas annual leave arrangements at 33 organisations.

Christmas payroll arrangements

Two-thirds (68.7%) of employers vary their regular payroll arrangements in December, to ensure that employees have access to their pay in good time for Christmas.

Among employers providing details of specific payroll variations, a small number report that their organisation's regular monthly pay date falls on the 25th of the month, so employees are paid earlier in December. Some other organisations offer employees an advance on their monthly wage, which will be deducted from their final pay packet later in the month.

Benchmarking subscribers can read full details of how 29 employers vary their payroll arrangements around Christmas.

Christmas celebrations

Nearly all the employers in our sample (98.1%) are planning a workplace Christmas celebration. Table 1 shows the range of festive celebrations that employees can look forward to at the end of 2018, with Christmas decorations, company-wide Christmas parties and departmental Christmas lunches the most popular.

Nearly half (49.6%) of employers hold "other" types of Christmas event than these more traditional options. Popular alternatives include:

  • Christmas jumper days (held by 86 organisations, equivalent to one-third of the survey sample);
  • Secret Santa events (at 68 organisations, or a quarter of the sample); and
  • Christmas quizzes and Christmas baking events (each offered by around 10 organisations).

A number of employers favour more unusual Christmas celebrations, including: Christmas pyjama days; Christmas crazy golf; a Christmas photo booth; and a reverse advent calendar (in which each day on the calendar has a suggested charitable act of giving).

Table 1: Type of Christmas celebration planned for 2018/2019

% of organisations
n = 262 organisations.
Source: XpertHR.
Type of Christmas celebration 1 to 249 employees 250 to 999 employees 1,000+ employees All
Christmas party - company-wide 69.1 41.0 11.1 54.6
Christmas party - departmental 12.1 31.1 52.8 22.1
Christmas lunch - company-wide 17.6 4.9 22.2 15.3
Christmas lunch - departmental 20.0 42.6 19.4 25.2
Christmas celebration event - other 53.9 45.9 36.1 49.6
Christmas decorations for office/workplace 66.7 65.6 52.8 64.5
Christmas gift 18.8 26.2 11.1 19.5
Christmas bonus 17.6 9.8 8.3 14.5
Additional time off 16.4 11.5 5.6 13.7
New Year celebration 0 1.6 2.8 0.8
None 0.6 0 11.1 1.9

Spending on seasonal celebrations

More than two-thirds (69.5%) of employers allocate a budget for Christmas celebrations. As table 2 shows, the median planned spend on Christmas celebrations for 2018/2019 is £40 per employee. The interquartile range - which covers the middle 50% of our sample when arranged from lowest to highest - goes from £25 to £70. Across the entire sample, the lowest planned spend is £5 per employee (at a retailer) and the highest is £200 (at a professional and business services organisation).

Two-thirds (69.2%) of employers with a dedicated budget report that their planned spending on Christmas celebrations in 2018 is unchanged from last year. A further quarter (23.1%) expect their budget to increase, while the remainder (7.7%) think it will decrease.

Table 2: Planned spend per employee on Christmas celebrations for 2018

Size of organisation Lower quartile, £ Median, £ Upper quartile, £ Average, £
1We have not broken down spend by public-sector respondents as the sample size was less than 10.
n = 102 organisations.
Source: XpertHR.
All employers 25.00 40.00 70.00 51.10
Broad economic sector1
Private-sector services 25.00 37.50 70.00 50.30
Manufacturing and production 30.00 50.00 75.00 54.26
Workforce size (no. of employees)
1 to 249 employees 25.00 50.00 80.00 57.37
250 to 999 employees 20.00 35.00 50.00 40.82
1,000+ employees 22.50 31.50 45.00 34.42

Managing employee behaviour at Christmas celebrations

How employees might behave at seasonal celebrations is a key concern for some employers in the run-up to the festive season. If an employee commits negligent or inappropriate acts that cause harm to other employees or to third parties during the course of a work-related social event, the employer may be found vicariously liable.

It is therefore perhaps surprising that two-thirds (66%) of employers in our sample do not have a policy setting out the standard of acceptable behaviour expected of employees at Christmas celebrations.

A common theme among those organisations with a policy is to remind employees that the Christmas celebration should be viewed as an extension of the workplace and that the same standards of behaviour therefore apply, as do the same penalties for inappropriate behaviour. One public-sector respondent says that their policy is designed to encourage employees to "celebrate responsibly", while a manufacturing-and-production sector employer reports that their policy sets out an "expectation of high standards of conduct, while still having fun". The most succinct response comes from a private-sector-services employer: "Let your hair down but not yourself."

It is notable that a number of employers report that their policies make specific reference to employee use of social media at Christmas celebrations. For example, one private-sector-services employer states that employees "must not post photographs or videos of themselves at the event, nor take and/or post any images of colleagues, other attendees or third parties (eg venue staff) who are also present, on the internet or any social media websites".

Issues experienced

The vast majority (93.5%) of employers report that no problems arose at their organisation's last Christmas celebration.

Among the minority (6.5%) of employers that did experience problems, specific examples include instances of: sexual harassment; verbal or physical altercations between employees; inappropriate behaviour/illness due to alcohol; and drug use. Half of these employers report that the situation was dealt with via informal dispute resolution procedures, and one-third say that a formal disciplinary hearing was held. One further situation resulted in a dismissal and another in an employee being referred to the occupational health department for support.

Ensuring employee safety at seasonal celebrations

Whether or not there is a policy in place on behaviour at Christmas celebrations, employers are well advised to take steps to ensure employee health, safety and wellbeing at these events.

As table 3 shows, two-thirds (64.5%) of employers plan to take action to ensure employee safety during and after the organisation's 2018/2019 Christmas celebrations. The most common planned actions are to issue employees with advice not to drink and drive and providing information on transport options. A number of employers provided information on more specific measures, including: assigning a buddy to young workers (those aged under 18) to ensure that they get home safely; and issuing a Christmas party kit that includes bottled water.

Table 3: Actions taken to ensure employee safety at and after Christmas celebrations

Action % of respondents
n = 262 organisations.
Source: XpertHR.
Advice not to drink and drive provided 37.8
Information on transport options provided 27.9
Transport home from celebration event provided and paid for 20.2
Transport to celebration event provided and paid for 19.5
Health and safety risk assessment on venue conducted 18.3
Car share/designated driver arranged 15.3
Overnight accommodation provided and paid for 12.2
Other 14.9
None or N/A 35.5

Three-quarters (75.2%) of employers take action to reduce the chance of problems arising at Christmas celebrations. Table 4 provides details of specific actions taken, with three-fifths (57.3%) providing food alongside alcohol at events and around half as many (32.1%) issuing clear written or verbal guidelines prior to the event.

Table 4: Actions taken to reduce chance of problems arising at Christmas celebrations

Action % of respondents
n = 262 organisations.
Source: XpertHR.
Food provided as well as alcohol at event 57.3
Clear written or verbal guidelines issued prior to event 32.1
Limits placed on any free alcohol provided at event 31.3
Managers monitor staff activities/alcohol intake at event 23.7
Other 8.4
None 24.8

Our research

This summary report is based on original research carried out online by XpertHR in August and September 2018. Useable responses were received from 262 organisations with a combined workforce of 540,423 employees. The breakdown of respondents by economic sector is as follows:

  • 184 (70.2%) are in private-sector services;
  • 59 (22.5%) are in manufacturing and production; and
  • 19 (7.3%) are in the public sector.

Broken down by workforce size, the organisations for which respondents work comprise:

  • 165 (63%) with between one and 249 employees;
  • 61 (23.3%) employing between 250 and 999; and
  • 36 (13.7%) with 1,000 or more employees.

The smallest organisation in the survey has 10 employees and the largest has 165,000. The median number of employees is 130.

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