As a small business owner, and a consultant who travels often to work for clients, my personal time is valuable. However, I also recognize that engaging in activities that foster employee morale is a required part of my job as the co-owner of the company. One of the ways my business partner and I have promoted employee morale is through social outings with our staff. These outings range from impromptu lunches together at a nice restaurant, to holiday gatherings in our home, to excursions in our boat. On these occasions, we have noted a variety of behaviors among our staff, including the employee who drinks too much alcohol and says regrettable things; to the employee who orders the most expensive meal on the menu for herself and her young daughter (who is also not well behaved); to the employee who dislikes every item on the menu (prepared by me, her boss) and refuses to eat anything; among other unfortunate experiences. One of the most fundamental principles of work related social outings is that they are WORK related, such that an employee’s bad behavior after work hours will certainly have ramifications for him/her when work is resumed. Those who work for small businesses should realize that work related social gatherings are costly for the business owner and further, are done soley to promote goodwill. These gatherings require a lot of work and planning on the part of the business partners who, I might add, are often busier and under more stress than the employees, such that the employee(s) who appear boorish and ungrateful will probably not last long in the work environment. Social outings with one’s boss and co-workers can be fun, but only if everyone in attendance realizes the primary purpose of the get together.
As Melissa says, these are social events, but with a work component. Typically, attendance is required, or at least strongly encouraged. In our environment that has never been a problem, but it can be in larger organizations especially if spouses or other family are invited. The issue is that they are built around “fun” activities usually, but held with people you might not select to have fun with otherwise. So, it is somewhat “compulsory fun.” And, it is costly to the business in some ways, financial, lost work time, etc. The questions become “is it worthwhile?” and “what are the benefits?” The answer, for us at least, is a qualified, “yes, it is worthwhile.” Just as it is important to get to know clients on more than the 1 dimensional basis of a client/consultant relationship, it is important for employees to know each other in more than a single, work, dimension. The personal understanding that can evolve in this way can be helpful in the workplace. This is not always the case and not everyone will get along with everyone. But, especially in a small work place, it is important that there be some comradery and social outings can reinforce this. So, despite some of the aberrant behaviors Melissa noted, work related social functions can be relatively enjoyable for all. We once took a fishing trip as a group that seemed to be a hit, and a couple of visits to Dave and Busters were fun. And, while scheduling such adventures can be challenging, it is important to take efforts to make such things happen both as a reward and to foster collegiality. Employees should welcome these opportunities, even though they may eat into personal time. Employers must recognize these as employee growth activities and schedule them, or engage in them spontaneously; put some fun in the workplace. Or at least try.