Company Parties: Think Before You Drink

Recently I received a call from a client advising that there was going to be a meeting. The actual memo that was issued to all managers was the following:

“It’s that time again folks! Summer is here, we are having a great month and it’s time to do a little team building exercise. By team building exercise I, of course, mean go to a bar and drink together.”

This may be an extreme example, but people still do this. And regardless of degree, there are some things to consider. I am not a prude or a wet blanket, but there are numerous liabilities and land mines built into this situation. Some of the liabilities are external legal ones and some are internal morale and values-based issues. Let’s explore.

If the event or activity is company planned and sponsored, then anything that happens at, or as a result of, the event or activity is “on the company.” If someone gets inebriated and then drives home and hurts someone, then it is a legal liability for the company. The possibilities for those types of situations may be remote, but the reality is they do happen.

More likely, the problems will be more interpersonal. People “under the influence” behave differently then when they are sober. Some are happy drunks. Some get mean when they drink. Some lose their inhibitions. Some think they are God’s gift to the other gender. Most just make fools of themselves.

I had one situation where an attendee pulled a starter pistol (the type of gun used to start a track or swimming event) and pointed it at his coworkers as a joke. He pulled the trigger and created a loud BANKG!—loads of fun. Another client had a drunken employee grope another employee at one of these functions. Employees propositioning other employees is typical, too. What values are on display here? What values are on display in the days afterward when senior management has to deal with the aftermath? The context changes from party setting to work setting pretty quickly. There is more here than just embarrassment.

Recommendations: If there is going to be a corporate sponsored event or activity, have it be dry or only the soft stuff. If there is going to be hard stuff, have it on a one or two drink limit. Have the event start early and end early. If people want to stay around after the event officially ends and then drink, make it clear that’s on their own. Set expectations for professionalism. The owner or senior persons need to set the example.

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