It’s a well-established tradition in the work world: the after-work happy hour. After everyone clocks out for the day around 5:00 p.m., it’s time to head to the local watering hole, where cheap happy hour drinks and appetizers are made available precisely to bring in the after-work crowd.
Many argue that these events are great for bonding and internal networking; however, there are potential negatives as well. What should you consider when thinking about planning that workplace happy hour?
According to the college campus recruiting blog, Symplicity, “[s]tructured team-building activities during work hours are good, but sometimes, a more relaxed atmosphere for bonding after work is even better. Inviting employees to happy hour helps them break the boundaries of ‘We’re together right now because we’re all at work’ and transcend into ‘We’re together right now because we’re all choosing to be.’”
Companies need to be wary of inappropriate conduct at happy hours, though. Just because such behavior occurs outside the office doesn’t mean it can’t expose the company to legal issues around harassment claims. See, for example, this article by law firm FisherBroyles’s “The Employer Handbook” page, written by Eric B. Meyer.
Even if conduct at happy hours doesn’t give rise to any legal liability, there’s still the possibility of causing discomfort that spills into the workplace. One obvious mitigation strategy is to encourage everyone to moderate his or her drinking.
Some employees may feel left out or uncomfortable if invited to a postwork gathering at a bar. It’s important to make clear that such events are optional. Additionally, consider selecting a venue that has a non-alcohol-related draw, such as popular appetizers or games.
Many companies encourage or even sponsor workplace happy hours. While there are legitimate concerns around the potential for alcohol-fueled inappropriate behavior and alienating nondrinkers, there are definitely ways to use the work happy hour as a way to boost employee satisfaction and camaraderie.