9 strategies employers use to keep people from drinking too much at the holiday party

As our wild holiday party stories prove — no matter how much warning they’re given, some people just can’t help but let loose during the company holiday party.

And this is a real concern for employers.

Of the almost 400 human resources professionals who plan to sponsor an end-of-year or holiday party surveyed by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) this November, 41% said they don’t plan on serving alcohol at all. This is up from 39% in 2012.

Of those who do plan on offering libations, almost half (47%) said they would regulate alcohol consumption at the party in some way.

“Holiday or end-of-year parties are great opportunities for employers to team build, acknowledge individual and company achievements, and boost employee morale,” Sherry Dixon, senior vice president with Adecco Staffing USA, tells Business Insider. “While it’s important to give employees the opportunity to let loose a little, it’s also critical to keep things professional.”

Keeping things professional is a major concern for employers because of liability issues, says Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.”

“When problems occur at holiday parties, there is real potential for the company and corporate brand to be tarnished,” he tells Business Insider. “That opportunity cost is significant. Many more companies are aware of the impact on reputation and the power of the internet to broadcast bad behaviour immediately and for eternity.”

While employers obviously have no way to control what goes on at the holiday after-party, here are nine ways they can keep people from drinking too much on the company’s watch:

1. Provide drink tickets

Most (71%) of the employers offering alcohol at a year-end or holiday party surveyed said they planned to keep people from drinking too much by providing drink tickets or a drink maximum.

'Not only does this help keep everyone safe, it also could be helpful in preventing employees from saying or doing discriminatory or offensive things while under the influence,' says Gretchen Van Vlymen, human resources practice leader at StratEx, a human resources service and software company.

2. Set expectations of good behaviour up front.


Van Vlymen says there tends to be an uptick in sexual harassment complaints following holiday parties where heavy drinking is involved, which is why her company advises clients to remind employees beforehand that the handbook policies on harassment still stand and drunkenness isn't a valid defence for such behaviour.

'To encourage professionalism at your office party, it is ok to set expectations beforehand,' Dixon says. 'In a kind and non-threatening manner, ask employees to limit alcohol consumption at the celebration, reminding them that inappropriate behaviours take away from team bonding.'

Meredith Hurst, a partner at Thomas Mansfield, an employment law consulting firm, says a gentle reminder usually does the trick without putting the dampeners on the party. 'In the vast majority of cases, trusting staff to act in the right way can reap its own rewards,' she tells Business Insider.

Another tack Van Vlyme says some employers take, though, is to ask employees to sign an acknowledgment of the handbook policies on harassment and discrimination prior to the start of the party.

3. Don't offer hard liquor.

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A quarter of the human resources professionals surveyed reported they would only serve certain types of alcohol, like beer or wine.

'There is a major upside in preventing employees from being overserved by prohibiting shots at the open bar,' Van Vlymen says.

4. Don't make drinking the main event.


While alcohol can still be part of the celebration, Dixon says some companies play down its role by diversifying activities.

Employees are able to have fun together away from the bar with things like ice skating, going to a sporting event, or volunteering as a team, which can then be followed by a happy hour or dinner.

5. Make employees pay for their alcohol.


Almost 20% of employers surveyed by SHRM said they would only offer a cash bar.

6. Serve alternatives to booze.

Julie Zeveloff/Business Insider

Ensuring there's enough food for the group or providing festive, non-alcoholic drink options can also limit or buffer alcohol consumption at holiday parties, Dixon says.

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