Safety HR

Is Your Company Holiday Party Like an Episode of "The Office?"

In a classic episode of NBC's hit TV series, "The Office," Steve Carrell's character, Michael Scott, the boss at the fictional Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin is shopping for beverages for the office Christmas Party.  He is speaking to the salesperson at a liquor store and asks, "You're the expert.  Is this enough to get 20 people plastered?"  The liquor store employee responds, "15 bottles of vodka?  Yeah, that should do it."

Houston area employers are presented with the dilemma of whether or not to provide alcohol in connection with company holiday parties. While some risk managers advise against having alcohol at holiday celebrations for fear of employee alcohol abuse, many Houston area employers still choose to do so.

Let’s face it, it's great entertainment to see employees make foolish choices at company holiday parties in the movies or on television. However, in real life, employee alcohol abuse can have disastrous effects on both employees and the company. If your company makes alcohol a part of your company holiday party, here are some thoughtful tips from us to ensure against employee alcohol abuse:

Limiting Employee Alcohol Abuse at Your Office Parties

  1. Avoid Open Bar

This may seem like common sense, but an open bar encourages drinking and provides easy access to alcohol for employees and their guests. Instead of maintaining an open bar, try employing a ticket system or a cash bar or a combination of both. For example, the company can provide each employee a free drink ticket or two. After that, employees would be required to purchase drinks. This system greatly reduces the amount of alcohol consumed.

  1. Limit Alcohol to Beer and Wine

Hard liquors have much higher alcohol content than beer and wine. Hard liquors lead to quick intoxication and employee alcohol abuse. Be sure that the company provides easy access to non-alcoholic beverages like soda, water, and coffee for the entire celebration.

  1. Hire Outside Professional Servers

Have you ever heard the expression, “I was over served?" Believe it or not, some people really think this is the case after a night of overconsumption. Professional servers are trained to notice when an individual is intoxicated and should not be served any further alcohol. It is a better bet for an outside professional to cut off an employee’s alcohol consumption than it is for a supervisor or co-worker.

  1. Hold the Celebration Offsite

While it may be more convenient to hold the company holiday party at the office, there are a number of liability concerns involved that you may not have considered. The best way to address liability issues is to avoid them altogether by booking an outside location for your holiday party like a banquet hall or restaurant.

  1. Hold the Celebration in the Afternoon -- During the Week
Timing is everything. Go ahead and close the office for an afternoon during the week. Holding your holiday celebration at this time will limit the amount of alcohol consumption because employees do not typically associate this time with alcohol consumption.
  1. Communicate Expectations

Some employees believe that alcohol overconsumption is acceptable at company holiday parties, and sometimes even expected. It's wise to remind employees through an e-mail communication beforehand that the company strongly encourages employees to enjoy themselves responsibly. This will remind employees that they will be attending a professional function and not a personal function.

  1. Use Designated Drivers or Provide Taxi Services

Your risk management group will probably want to weigh-in on the best way to handle this, but having either of these options readily available for employees can prevent a party from turning into a tragedy.  Despite best efforts, sometimes people will do what they do.  And, if your employees are bringing guests, you can’t control what a guest might do.  Just to keep things safe, consider having some transportation options available for those who might not drink responsibly.

Company holiday celebrations are something to look forward to. Not only can they be enjoyable, they communicate to employees that the company cares about more than just the daily grind. It is possible to address concerns of employee alcohol abuse and hold a festive holiday celebration all at once.

Tell us about your experience.  Does your company serve alcohol at its company-sponsored parties?  What suggestions do you have for a safe, yet fun corporate celebration?

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