Tips for a great summer event

Ready for a break in routine and a fun, relaxing time at a summer office party?

Most likely, H.R. professionals see such events through different lenses. With summer baseball client parties and office outings just a month away, many companies may be raising new drinking restrictions. Here’s why: anytime alcohol is involved, there is the potential for rowdy behavior, sexual harassment, and even a drunken-driving accident that may steer the organization to court.

While most companies haven’t absolutely prohibited alcoholic consumption at summer work-related events, many have reduced the amount available and taken other steps to separate themselves from bad behavior. That makes sense, but even so, H.R. specialists disagree about how best to host those parties. For example, one New York H.R. specialist suggested to SHRM that events should start right after work so employees aren’t tempted to pre-party before they arrive. This is counter to the advice offered by Bob Gregg, a partner in Boardman Law Firm in Madison, Wisconsin who specializes in employment law.

According to Gregg, you want to very cleanly break the link between work and play. “Host the celebration outside of regular business hours at an off-premises facility that is licensed to sell alcohol. Even if you hold it at the end of the day, employees coming to and from work may still be in the scope of their employment, which exposes the employer to liability. You have to have people leave and come back for the party so that you can say that you have broken the chain of to-and-from work.”

Some companies will be hiring bartenders paid to also monitor drinking behavior. Others will limit the time alcohol is served or hand out a limited number of drink tickets. To go the extra mile, some companies provide Uber or taxi rides, even offering a free pick-up and return services for party-goers.

Why host a party at all, given these liability worries? The benefits will almost always overcompensate for the possibility of a few incidents of bad behavior. For example, offering a “celebrate your job” pre-party event with an open house/tour for children to see where daddy or mommy works, and that provides an opportunity for friends to visit workspaces, is a pride booster that can recharge employee engagement and possibly serve as a recruitment tool as well. Company barbecues give people a chance to cross over departmental lines and build better relationships company wide, and a casual “breakfast with the company president” could be a chance to further cross-title conversations.

If the budget doesn’t allow for big celebrations, consider these smaller-scale on-premises ideas: a summer ice-cream social for employees and their families after work; a lunch-time grilling competition; a chili contest (folks “vote” by their willingness to paying 50 cents for a small sample in a Styrofoam cup at the stations of their choice); a “field day” with prizes for the most absurd outdoor game performances; or a frisbee golf outing. Any idea that offers a low-stress change of pace will be as welcomed by employees as a breezy summer night.

What’s worked at your company? We’d love to hear in the comments section!


About Jody Glynn Patrick

Jody is President of Glynn Patrick & Associates, which provides management consulting, executive coaching and strategic planning services. She is Publisher Emeritus of In Business magazine, which she published for 17 years. Selected as the “U.S. Business Journalist of the Year” in 2007 in Washington, DC, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Jody has been a business reporter, editor, radio talk show host , and has won other state and national journalism awards. At the same time, she has helped corporate clients grow their businesses -- the basis for her practical coaching advice here. She also was the 2005 Athena Award recipient for her leadership role in mentoring other professional women. Jody will be talking with you weekly on TDS’ blog to share her insights and tips from the C-Suite perspective. Follow on G+.

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