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Office parties in December

Q: My husband owns a small business. 2010 was a relatively good year for his business (compared to 2009 and 2008). He wants to have a holiday party in late December at a local restaurant. Do companies still have these parties? I am concerned about some people overdoing it with alcohol. What can we do to prevent this?

A: I am happy to hear that your husband’s business had a successful year in 2010. Congratulations to him and his company!

From what I have observed, many companies are enjoying holiday parties but the events seem to be far more casual and less glitzy than in past years. Some of my clients are having brunches at local restaurants (probably to avoid the concern that you have shared). Some of my clients are having potluck events in their office conference rooms with no alcohol being served. I have a few clients who are ordering pizzas and salads during a lunch hour in December. Although few in number, I know of a few companies who are renting function rooms at restaurants or hotels to celebrate the success that they enjoyed in 2010. If alcohol is being served at a company event, it is sometimes helpful to issue reminders in advance in a non-threatening but professional way. One example of an email that your husband could send to all employees in advance of the event:

I look forward to joining you at 6:30pm on Saturday, Dec 18, 2010 at the ABC Restaurant (the Blue Room) at 123 Main Street in Anytown, Mass. Dinner will be served at 7pm. I am thankful to each and every employee for their contributions in 2010. I look forward to enjoying the company of co-workers, our invited guests and a delicious meal. I also want everyone to be safe. Please drink responsibly and enjoy the evening. I will see you on the 18th!

A few recommendations for holiday and/or end of year parties –

1. As a business leader, model appropriate behavior. Ask your senior team members to also model professional behavior. Emphasize the meal and the chance to get to know others while enjoying dinner. Ask your senior team members to specifically avoid conversations (even in a joking manner) that could be construed as encouraging excessive alcohol consumption. An example of a comment that should be avoided: “Things have been so tight at ABC Co. for two years now that I have decided that if Mr. Jones is buying the drinks at the party, I will be doing the drinking!”
2. Remind senior leaders and all employees that professional behavior is still expected even during a holiday or end of year event.
3. Avoid religious connotations in your messaging and décor so that all on your guest list feel welcome and included.
4. If serving alcohol, use trained bartenders to help minimize liability as well as to identify behavioral changes as a result of alcohol consumption.
5. If an employee or guest does drink alcohol in excess, ensure that the individual(s) is able to get home safely. Consider paying for a cab or requesting a sober colleague to drive them home.

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Most employees will behave in a professional manner, especially if it is a company-sponsored event. However, a company’s culture and past history of social events can influence future events.

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