Whether it’s the annual Holiday party in December or an anniversary gathering under a summer tent, company parties can be really fun. It’s a chance for people to let their hair down a bit and get to know each other in a more casual setting. Plus, the addition of spouses or families help people let their guard down, and make it easier to discuss topics other than what’s currently pressing at work for the moment.
This is the positive side of company parties, but then you have that nagging fear of every HR employee. Some people cut a little too loose, having too much to drink and losing their manners in the process. This is something that keeps many HR professionals awake at night when planning these shindigs, but this shouldn’t ruin a joyful event for everyone.
There are ways to mitigate these situations and to try and prevent them from becoming issues in the first place.
Poor behavior can be a big issue – so much so that people can go to a work party on Thursday, and lose their job by Friday.
While you can’t control the choices your employees make, you can help provide guardrails and encourage positive outcomes for everyone.
Here are a few ways you can help guarantee a Fun and Safe Company Party.
- Communicate expectations beforehand. One action you can take to protect yourself and make sure others know what to expect is to send out an email detailing what constitutes acceptable (or rather unacceptable) behaviour. A few days in advance, it’s a good idea to let everyone know what you as a company expect as it pertains to the conduct of your employees. It doesn’t need to be too stuffy or a buzzkill, but make it very clear you expect mature and responsible actions, especially when it comes to involvement with alcohol. Outline the actions you are taking as a company, and the actions you expect them to take, as well. Also, put a definite end time to the event – you don’t want people hanging around until 12:30 a.m. Be clear and concise, but finish on a positive note.
- Alcohol tickets. It’s easy to get lost in good company, and before you know it, down a few more drinks than you intended. Stop that before it starts by either having the waitstaff limit drinks per person, or use a limited number of tickets per person that they must bring to the party. Putting tickets out at the venue means some people can take a few extra, and we’re not looking for intoxication here. Also, limit the kinds of alcohol being offered (which is cheaper for you, too) to just beer and wine. They don’t have the same kick as whiskey or bourbon and you’re looking for people to unwind, not pass out.
- Public Transportation Available. Make sure you cover yourself from liability by choosing a venue with public transportation available, or a ride sharing app. Remote places are awfully beautiful, but they can put you in a tight spot if people are 45 minutes (or more) from home without a safe way to get back. If you can fit it into the budget, see if you can get a contract with a local cab company to have one or two available for “emergency” purposes only, just in case someone doesn’t plan ahead and you don’t have someone that can help them out. Be careful with passing the buck on to another employee, as you don’t want to make anyone feel pressured by the company for being responsible for someone else — it puts both parties in an even more awkward position.
- Designated Team Member. As much as you want to let your hair down as well, there should be someone from the HR or People Operations department who can police the event as it’s going along. If you have enough people, turn it into shifts, so everyone can have a chance to enjoy themselves. This person can help arrange for transportation home if someone does become too inebriated, and can keep a watch on any boisterousness. Also, if there is any unwanted flirting or situations where people find they are too uncomfortable, you can be the liaison to make sure the situation doesn’t get too far out of hand.
- Daytime with the Kids. If all of this seems a bit much, and you don’t want to deal with hassles late at night, make it an afternoon event and invite the whole family. People are more likely to control their drinking when they know they have to get their kids home safely. And, if the family is present, you can usually count on a spouse to be responsible enough to get everyone home, if the employee has one too many. Plus, you can offer heftier foods (but, let’s be honest, food should be present anyway) that can taper the effects of alcohol. Plus, it’s just fun to see kids playing together, and can help friendships form outside of the office.
Events with alcohol don’t have to be scary and keep you up at night – provide resources so that you’re covered from liability and then relax a bit. It will be a fun time, with great stories. Cheers!