Alcohol at the Company Holiday Party? Hell Yes!

Tis the season for holiday parties, and if we’re being honest, a holiday party isn’t complete without a few alcoholic beverages. Even if you consider yourself a cool leader, you’ve likely wondered if the decision to invite alcohol to a party could come back to bite you.

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I was talking with an HR Pro recently who’s struggling with the idea of having alcohol at company events. The truth is, most HR Pro’s and legally minded people will tell you to steer clear. At the very least, they’ll hesitantly approve. After all, there’s a lot of liability and, God forbid, something happens to someone while they’re on your watch. I think we all understand that.

But lets be real, alcohol helps soften the awkward atmosphere. It encourages people to interact with those they don’t know well, and breaks down silos. Alcohol, via it’s ability to do these things, helps strengthen your corporate culture… Unless things get out of hand. Therefore, having alcohol at a company event is about striking a balance without tipping over to the inappropriate side.

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Here are three ways you can strike a balance with a drink in your hand:

1) Remember, You Employ Adults

Adults, by and large, make the right decisions as long as they understand expectations. That being said, having the ‘alcohol’ conversation is nothing more than aligning those expectations. During the all-hands meeting before your party, a senior leader should make a statement about their excitement for the upcoming event. They should then say the following, “I want each and every one of you to have a great time. This party is to celebrate you and all that you’ve done for us this year. That being said, we are the kind of company that expects every one of you to treat your colleagues with dignity and respect. This applies whether there is alcohol involved or not. Now have a great time!”

As a side note, you’ve hired adults but your under 21 employees don’t get to drink. Make that clear to them and clear to the other members of the team. I’ve never had problems with under age employees drinking. The wrath that would’ve been laid upon them and whomever gave them the alcohol was a scary enough thought that they never tested it.

2) Make it Hard for People to Make Dumb Decisions

The number one fear I have over letting employees drink is that someone will get behind a wheel afterwards. Therefore, I always, always make free cabs or transportation available to people.

In the past I’ve struck deals with local cab companies, so they would accept Free Ride cards from employees on the evening of our event. The cards had our logo, our billing address, the words Free Ride, and the cab’s phone number. We announced the cards at our all-hands meeting before the party and handed them out like candy the week before and during the event.

Today you can even work with Uber to create a special event codes for access to rides that you pick up the tab for.

You can be creative here, but find a way to get people home without putting anyone at risk, and your liability decreases significantly.

Pro Tip: Spouses are awesome at keeping their mates in check. Invite significant others whenever you can because they tend to drink less and they make good decisions at the end of the night.

3) This is a One Strike and You’re Out Deal

If an employee has blatantly crossed the line, hasn’t treated fellow employees with dignity and respect, or did something really dumb (think one step beyond standing on a table and singing dumb) then they don’t get to drink at company events in the future. It’s that easy. “Sorry, but you made some bad decisions and for the next three months there’s no alcohol for you”.

As a side note, it sucks to have to play ‘Police’ at company events but it’s okay to do it. Set the expectations early and if you see someone getting out of hand, cut them off before they cross the line. Once you’re back in the office pull them aside and privately tell them that next time there’s alcohol you’d like them to be a bit more careful about drinking too much.

I feel strongly about the positive impact alcohol has on a corporate culture when it’s integrated with a clear strategy. It’s important to strike the right balance and ensure your employees are making good decisions. I promise you most of them will and the others can be dealt with quickly and efficiently.

Have fun and drink safely!

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Marisa Keegan
by Marisa Keegan
Marisa Keegan has held culture and engagement roles inside two nationally recognized great places to work, started the networking group Culture Fanatics, and wrote the book Culture: More than Jeans and Margarita Machines. She was recognized as one of the Top 100 Employee Engagement Experts in the US in 2013 and is currently a consultant to organizations interested in creating a great culture.
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