Throwing a safe holiday party at work

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Q:  I am in the person at my company, who plans our holiday party.  Last year, we had a company party and there were a few people who became intoxicated and ruined the party for many of us.  I worry about planning an event where people could be drinking and driving.  Plus, there are some folks who are sober and these events are probably a challenge for them. 

A:  When you mix alcohol at company-sponsored event, these events can be tough for many.  Here are some guidelines to help you reduce your company’s risk but also still throw a fun party.

  1. Establish some ground rules in advance. Ask employees to have fun but also be careful about their behavior.  This is still a work event.  It is not a family reunion or a tailgate party with college friends.
  2. Ask the leadership team to role model ideal behavior. If the CEO buys a round of shots for the finance team, then others learn that drinking a shot is the norm and almost expected.
  3. Offer one or two drink tickets per person, as opposed to having an open bar with unlimited alcohol. Make sure that your bartender is trained in spotting unusual or concerning behavior. Limit the hours where alcohol is served.  Think about closing the bar an hour or so before the end of the party.
  4. Assume there will be someone (or a few) who need a ride home. Plan for that in advance.  Research cab vouchers or ride share programs.  Ask your company to pay for these rides.  It is short money to keep employees and guests safe.
  5. Reserve a block of rooms at a nearby hotel. Sometimes you can even negotiate a group discount.
  6. Feed your guests. The focus should be on socializing, not alcohol.  Make sure your guests eat if they are also consuming alcohol.
  7. Ensure that alcohol-free drinks are available for those you don’t drink. Make sure that there is no pressure to drink or to stay for the entire event.  Some may prefer to leave a bit early and that is ok too.
  8. Ask your venue’s contact if they have additional suggestions for maintaining a positive and safe environment for your employees.
  9. Think about student interns, co-ops, etc. in advance. Will you exclude them or not?
  10. Harassment is in the news. Alcohol often contributes to poor decision-making and inappropriate behavior.  Think about reviewing your company’s harassment policy and communicating expectations about conduct before the event.

Finally, model professional behavior.  Others will look to you, at the coordinator, as the norm for what is expected.

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