Guidelines for work-related social events

Q:  Recently, we had a summer outing where all employees were
invited to a beachside cookout and bonfire.  Most of our employees and
family members had a great time.  There were a few employees and guests
who, in my opinion, had too much to drink and behaved stupidly.  I
haven’t heard of any inappropriate behavior but I do worry about having
another type of event where alcohol is served and people are driving. 
Do we ban these events altogether?

A:  Work-related functions can be tough to navigate for some. 
Guidelines for what is acceptable and what is not acceptable can help. 
Sharing some ground rules for behavior, in advance, can be effective.

Those in leadership roles often set the tone for these events.  If a
senior leader consumes a lot of alcohol and behaves unprofessionally,
others tend to assume that is the norm, and begin to think that
excessive drinking is acceptable behavior.

Many companies have moved away from “open bar” type of events and
instead offer a one or two drink tickets.  Others make arrangements in
advance for taxi vouchers or alternative ways of getting employees and
guests home safely.  Some companies hold events at hotels and reserve a
block of rooms at a discounted rate so employees don’t drive home
impaired.  Alcohol-focused events are a challenge for some, especially
those who may struggle with addiction.

Still other companies have celebrations where there is less of a focus
on alcohol and more of a focus on an activity or an event.  I have one
client that has a pot luck celebration every year and employees vote on
the tastiest dish served.  I have another client who has a family fun
day for employees and their families.  At their family fun day, this
client offers activities like face painting, pie eating, hay rides and
pumpkin painting.  I even have a few clients who have moved away from
the evening events and host luncheons, brunches, lunch-hour harbor
cruises or the like.  Some of my clients have decided have to eliminate
employee celebrations altogether, and instead ask employees to
participate in some type of charitable event (e.g., working in a food
pantry or cleaning up a local park).

No two companies are exactly alike when it comes to employee events. 
However the safety of employees and their guests should always be
considered.

Companies offer these types of events to show appreciation for their
employees.  It is also a way to get to know colleagues in a different,
more social setting.

Banning social events seems like a severe decision.  However
re-thinking the type of event may be wise.  Discussing ground rules in
advance may also be a way to better set expectations.  Company events
are not like college reunions.  Your question is particularly timely
since many companies are planning their holiday or year-end functions
now.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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