In Business, Size Matters: Social Outings

Most companies have a single holiday-themed party each year. It’s a little corny but it has decent food and free drinks. Normally someone will get a little too tipsy and hit on their assistant… or their boss. At one of my most memorable company holiday parties, a veteran employee got completely sloshed and cut the sales manager’s tie off with his pocket knife. Needless to say, that story will live on forever.

At many small companies, with their family-like atmosphere and close-quarters, company parties happen with  much more frequency. My company currently hosts a hockey game, a baseball game, a company fish fry, a golf outing, a Christmas party and about a dozen prize and vacation giveaway promotional nights. It helps that every bar, restaurant and reception hall in the county is our customer. With all of those activities, I spend a decent amount of time with my co-workers, outside of our actual office.

Normally, company outings are fun! My co-workers are all relatively fun people. The owners of our company pick up the tab for everything. And most of the time, you can win some pretty cool prizes. In fact, almost everyone I know is jealous of all my work-perks. Gigantic wooden toboggan… don’t mind if I do. Flat screen TV… how kind of you!

But believe it or not, even with all the great prizes and free booze, social outings with my company can still be taxing. For one, since we distribute alcohol, we can never bring our children. I’m not the kind of mother who can never leave her kids alone. We have an amazing babysitter and we use her frequently. But I also don’t think its appropriate to be out at bars every weekend while my daughter eats pizza with a high-school girl. As a working mother, I already feel like I have limited family time. I hate to use that time to see more of my co-workers!

Secondly, the more you mix your professional and social lives, the blurrier those lines become. We all laugh about the guy who played Boy Scout with his Swiss Army knife, but sooner or later, we all could become him. Logistically speaking, I have twelve times the opportunity of embarrassing myself at this company as if I worked at a larger one. Sure, when you have a special occasion once a year, it’s easy to limit yourself to a single glass of wine. But if you spend a couple nights a month out with your co-workers and alcohol is a part of your work culture, you’re going to get more comfortable drinking with your peers. One skipped lunch later and you’re mortified of showing up to work the next morning because you tripped and feel into your bosses lap when you were trying to discreetly go call a cab.

Obviously, alcohol isn’t nearly as prevalent in other small businesses, but the combining of social and professional lives can still lead to complications. The more time you spend with your co-workers outside of work, the more personal information you’re likely to share. You could walk into work the next morning thinking, “Why the hell did I tell Kelly from accounting that I had a fling with Jack from IT?”

Company outings are fun. They are a great way to build teamwork and create a comfortable family-like atmosphere in the workplace. But they still need to be used sparingly. If your company ever goes overboard on the bonding, remember, you can always say no. You just might not win a toboggan that way.

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