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Neels & Company - Strategic Business Communication
Trusted Advisor
Gretchen Neels
Gretchen Neels, President, Neels & Company

Dear Trusted Advisor

My husband and I are serious ballroom dancers and enjoy hitting the dance floor at the company Christmas party. We wear costumes from past competitions and ask the band or DJ to play a few songs we particularly like. I wonder if it’s all too much, though. Last year, one colleague asked if “Dancing With the Stars” was next for my career, and another said she had no idea I was so “spunky.” What do you think? G. R., Eagan, MN

Dear G.R.,

“Spunky” is pretty hard to pin down—could be an instance of “Minnesota nice.” A dancer myself, I know how exciting a parquet floor and a live band can be, but costumes? That’s the part that’s a tad over the top. Most people are not comfortable dancing and probably see your expertise as highlighting their lack of skill. This year, skip the sequins and the super fancy footwork and join the crowd for the Electric Slide as a sign of good will.

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Gretchen’s Guidelines are complimentary, bite-sized pieces of advice you can listen to. This month, we introduce Five Steps to a Fabulous First Impression and Three Skills Every New Professional Must Master.

 

Meet The Parents

Recently, a reporter asked for my thoughts on businesses having open bars at events and what downsides such offerings can hold. That line of discussion led to the double standard that exists for women who conduct business over cocktails with male clients and colleagues, and from there, we ran into the belly of the beast: alcohol at work-related functions and all the dangers therein.

Full disclosure: as it does in many families, alcoholism runs in mine. However, I’m fortunate that long-term sobriety is also running in my family, one day at a time. This is a topic near and dear to me, and it appears that it’s time to put it on the conference room table.

I’m sure most of you can share a story or two about a colleague who had one too many at a company event and things got out of hand. A friend told me about an argument that ensued during after-dinner drinks at a senior management retreat. Seems that one free-wheeling boozer called the CEO, who was present, “An [expletive] who doesn’t do any real work.”

Back to the reporter—she called me a day later and told me that no one would speak candidly about alcohol at work-sponsored events. She said that while many she talked to acknowledge that alcohol abuse at firm events exists, aside from handing out cab vouchers, not much is done to address it.

No doubt it’s easy for people to get a bit sloppy when celebrating a hard won case or closing a big deal or wishing a departing colleague well. Now is a good time to evaluate your own behavior at past events and ask if you need to tone it down. If you can’t remember what took place the night before, you’ve got a problem. If you are able to recall everything you said, but wished you had kept some comments to yourself, heed my advice and limit yourself to two drinks, max.

New graduates who struggle to fit into their firm’s culture find it challenging when it comes to navigating firm dinners, receptions and holiday parties. Remember, new professionals have just left environments where drinking to excess is often the norm, so giving them clear guidelines on expected behavior at work events with alcohol makes sense.

Signs that an organization is having trouble might include a breakdown in decorum and an increase in bad behavior. When the bash is in full swing, do your employees still behave in a manner consistent with the firm’s carefully cultivated reputation?

Here are a few suggestions, in addition to those cab vouchers, to keep the festivities fun, but far from out of control at your next firm event:

  • To some, an open bar says, “Get hammered here, for free.” Serve only wine and beer to slow down the feel-no-pain process. If tradition is such that your firm must have an open bar, limit it to one hour, but don’t serve shots and by all means, put the Jägermeister away.
  • Have plenty of non-alcoholic options available. Offer mocktails (alcohol-free cocktails) along with non-alcoholic beer and wine, iced tea, coffee and soft drinks.
  • Provide lots of protein when drinks are served, such as shrimp, cheese, deviled eggs, smoked fish, chicken skewers, nuts, etc. Putting icy beers out at the 4 o’clock Friday Happy Hour with only chips and salsa can send someone who hasn’t eaten lunch into a tailspin in no time.
  • Assign someone to monitor the crowd and intervene before anything gets ugly—sort of like a designated driver before anyone hits the road.

There is no question that professionals who work hard sometimes play hard, and far be it from me to stop the party. However, it’s worth taking some time to consider how much of a good thing is sometimes just too much.

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