Hosting an office happy hour can be a great bonding experience for you and your employees – it’s a chance for your team to let their hair down without the pressures or dynamics of ‘work’ getting in their way of being able to connect with each other. Team happy hours can be a real crowd pleaser and can help individuals unwind after a tough work day. They are also a fun way to help reward hard work, and improve company culture and the work environment. That said, introducing alcohol to a work setting can carry some risks that you should be aware of. We’re here to help you identify those risks and mitigate them for a classy, comfortable happy hour.
Understand Your Office Happy Hour Liabilities
Hosting a team happy hour does come with potential legal liabilities for your company so it’s best to be aware of those.
The case Purton v. Marriott International Inc. teaches us that a company can be held liable for driving under the influence (or potentially other alcohol-related incidents) even in extreme situations.
In this case, an employee got home safely after drinking too much at a office party, and then they decided to get behind the wheel afterward which lead to the death of another driver. While the original court agreed that Marriott wasn’t responsible, an appeal court decided that the party was beneficial to Marriott and that the party was within the scope of his employment. The ruling meant that Marriott was partially responsible for the death of the other driver.
Another thing to consider is harassment and sexual misconduct. Alcohol, as a substance, lowers inhibitions and can blur the lines between what’s acceptable small talk and what’s not. As such, it’s important that your employee code of conduct reminds employees that they are still subject to your policies at work-sponsored after hours events.
Get To Know Your Employees
You may have employees who have a difficult past with alcohol. Alcoholism is a serious disease and something to be very sensitive to. Make sure you get to know your employees and let them know that it’s absolutely okay to be forward about sensitivities (health, behavioral, or otherwise) with alcohol. You don’t want an office happy hour to trigger them negatively. It’s also important that employees do not feel pressured to attend or participate in the drinking-related elements of your events.
Make Team Happy Hour Attendance Optional
Events, where alcohol is present, should never be required. You need to make it clear that the events are an optional bonding experience and that no one’s career will be harmed if they cannot attend the event for personal reasons.
Make sure that you offer other optional team building experiences besides happy hours, so that team members who are sensitive to alcohol have other options.
Redefine Happy Hour Drinks (Or Make Them Less Potent!)
If you’re going to offer employees happy hour drinks, consider limiting the drinks to beer, wine, or a premixed cocktail with a mild alcohol content.
Or, maybe serving alcoholic beverages just isn’t the right choice for your team. Perhaps you’d like to offer alternatives to beer and wine for folks who don’t want to partake.
Instead of serving alcohol, think about serving:
- Coffee or tea
- Sodas (many stores sell craft sodas and interesting flavors – think about offering a tasting bar!)
- Milkshakes (think different flavors and toppings)
There are many things you can serve in a bar that wouldn’t make people intoxicated but would still be fun and offer an ‘ice breaker’ for after-hours events.
Serve Food With Drinks
As a general rule, if you decide to serve alcoholic drinks, you should serve food as well. Whether you’re ordering in pizzas, offering appetizers, or even just snacks, it’s a good idea to offer sustenance.
Use Drink Tickets Or Tokens/Make It A Cash Bar
Another way to stop attendants from drinking too much is to use drink tickets or make your happy hour event a cash bar event. Give your employees a set number of drink tickets (2-3 tickets) and allow them to spend them on the drinks they want. Alternatively, you can require folks to pay their own way for drinks if you’re having your after-hours event off-site at a restaurant or bar.
Hire A Professional Bartender
It’s always great to have staff on hand to watch your employees, but hire an extra layer of protection and get a bartender. A bartender can keep tabs on your employees and cut people off if they have had too much to drink.
Provide Activities Throughout The Event
Your entire event doesn’t have to revolve around the drinks you serve and by removing the primary focus from drinking, you’ll include to the team members who maybe don’t drink or don’t want to drink.
Here are some ideas for activities and party themes:
- Host a town hall where employees can ask questions and have informal discussion about the company
- Fun activities and party games such as scavenger hunts, office Olympics, or playing board and card games. You could even do indoor sports such as ping pong
- Host your version of trivia night with company or local trivia questions
- Bring in a speaker or panel (either from outside the company or from your own team!)
- Work on a non-work related team project such as volunteering
- Offer a class like wine tasting, art or cooking
- Theme party – mini happy hour events such as Valentine, Halloween, St Patrick’s Day or Christmas
- Host a movie night, or hiring a photo booth can also prove to be a lot of fun.
Make Arrangements For Employees To Get Home If Necessary
Sometimes alcohol affects an employee more than they thought it would. As an office manager, you should have a ride lined up for any employee who needs it, discreetly, like ride-share or a taxi. Make it clear that anyone who needs one can expense it and leave their car at the office, no questions asked.
Have some fun giveaways
Having a contest or giveaway for team happy hour can be a great way to increase excitement and engagement. The prizes don’t have to break the bank and are a good chance to giveaway some fun company swag. Drink/Happy Hour based items are great choices, including branded barware, like shot glasses, pint glass or cocktail shaker. Or another fun option is some apparel or drinkware, like water bottles or even a portable blender. These small giveaways are great ways to have some fun or show employees you appreciate them.
Hosting a company happy hour is a great way to build a bond between the individuals on a team, and show employee appreciation. They are also great at motivating staff to hit company milestones but be aware of (and take steps to avoid) any potential legal issues. By shifting the focus from alcohol to spending casual time together as a team, you can create a safe, happy hour experience that is classy and comfortable for everyone. So next time you are planning a office happy hour or themed party consider some of these party ideas (and issues) for an event to really shine and be the talk of the break room for all the right reasons.