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So, here is a question about how to handle an employee who enjoyed herself a little too much at the company party.

Two nights ago I hired a van to take my staff from our location to the company headquarters for the annual bash.  We work for a wine and spirits company and the parties are notoriously well stocked with every conceivable libation.

My assistant is a young woman who took particular advantage of the free bar that night and on the way home in the van became belligerent when I refused to send our driver on a detour to a bar she wanted to be dropped off at.  There were 13 of us in the van and we were all tired and ready to get home.  When I told her that we would drop her off where we picked her up she began to taunt me and at one point hit me in the back of the head.  It was obvious that everyone in the van was very uncomfortable although no one has mentioned it since.

I won't see her again until next week and I'm trying to figure out how to approach it.  As an assistant she is invaluable, hardworking and dedicated.  Overall we have a great working relationship.  But I fear that we have become to informal with each other and that it has lead to her behaving as she did.

My question is this:  Do I talk with about this or let it go and chalk it up to a holiday party novice?  And how do I approach it.  Is the feedback model sufficient or does this warrant a more formal reprimand?

Any constructive advice is welcome.

Thanks.

tlhausmann's picture

Two things stand out in your post:

> [she] became belligerent

> she is invaluable, hardworking and dedicated

Your post raises a lot of questions. It seems the belligerence was embarrassing for her--at the very least. Regardless of how hard the head slap was it was over the line.

I do not know all the details and my natural inclination is to forgive.  Nevertheless, I believe you must address the matter with her in a private conversation making clear her behavior was unacceptable. Can you find a way to make this a teachable moment and encourage her  to apologize to everyone? I hope she takes it upon herself to apologize to you right away.

Your post is also a great reminder on why the podcast "Time to Party?" http://www.manager-tools.com/2006/10/time-to-party is an important one.

mmann's picture

Yes, you have to talk to her.  The message that's delivered might vary, but you have to address the huge, white elephant in the middle of the room.

What you say depends on subtleties that can't be gleaned from your post.  How hard did she hit you... was it a tap or was it enough to knock your glasses off?  Did she commit any additional faux pas that night with anyone else, etc.

At a minimum the standard feedback is called for.  Remember to keep the focus on future behavior.  You could consider sharing the Time to Party cast.

--Michael

bug_girl's picture

if you were a woman, and she were a man, would you think for one second it was ok for him to hit you?

I agree with the others--this needs to be addressed ASAP. Physical violence/touching is never ok, regardless of the circumstances.  And the faster you address this, the better it will be for your whole team.

Also, as a survivor of a drunk driver, big props to you for hiring a van for your employees. All the other folks on the road thank you.

You also did the right thing in refusing to let your employee go on to a new bar to make more bad decisions--even if she doesn't think so.

tberge's picture

Your employee will appreciate you addressing and deflating the elephant in the room.  This can only be good for all involved.

Agree with Bug Girl, kudos to you for hiring a van and for vetoing the late night trip to the bar.

dhaidle's picture

 You:  Can I give you some feedback?

Direct:  Sure.

You:  When you get drunk, whack me in the head, continue taunting me, and become beligerant, others become very uncomfortable.  Your behavior makes it difficult for people to interact with you in the office.  People begin to see you as difficult to work with and do not want to engage with you during after-hours functions and during work hours.  What can you do differently about this?

Direct:  I can't remember.

You:  Can't remember what?

Direct:  What are you talking about?

You:  During the van ride back to our cars you were out of control.

Direct:  Wow, that's how I got back to my car.

You:  So, what can you do about that?

Direct:  Buy a video camera so that I won't forget.

You:  Argh!

 

Ok, that was just a little holiday humor.  I truly love manager tools, but one thing that I am learning is that humor can sometimes really help!  On a more serious note, that is a difficult situation and I would actually try this approach up until the "I can't remember" part.  Oh, and have a better answer prepared than what I came up with.  

Bug Girl is right as well.  If gender roles were reversed, your direct would be severely reprimanded or let go.

asteriskrntt1's picture

Sorry but when the company sponsors a party with alcohol, it runs the risk of events like this happening.  Everything above is true and accurate.  However, you are the one who put her in the situation.  Did she handle it well? No. 

So put the shoe on the other foot feedback wise.  When you have your employees attend company parties that are notoriously stocked with every type of cocktail, things can get out of hand.  What can you do differently?

jhbchina's picture

Wow - Now this is a good topic! Has the employee apologized yet?

* RNTT1

BG is right on this point "Physical violence or obvious physical touching with sexual intent, is never ok, regardless of the circumstances. "

I appreciate your take on this, for it does put some of the responsibility back on the company. However, this case is like an airplane crash. Several things have to wrong for a major failure, and in this case it did.

At the end of the day, it is up to the individual to make the choice to manage how much they drink, no matter what company they work for. M&M have said this in one of their party casts "1 Drink PERIOD". Now all of us have gone over the limit once or twice (or uncountable times). The question is when did we hit our boss in front of our peers?

What was her real intent, was it a kidding around bump, or SMACK to the head.

So the feedback needs to be along the lines of

 You:  Can I give you some feedback?

Direct:  Sure.

You:  When you get drunk, whack me in the head, continue taunting me, and become beligerant, in front of other company employees, I become uncomfortable. You are young and have your whole career in front of you and I would hate to see you damage your image and future over a few free drinks. It is also important that we have a relationship that is professional at all times. In today's PC environment things can and are taken out of content for the wrong reasons, and we don't want that happening to us. It takes years to build a good professional image, and an instant to lose it. What can you do differently?

 

asteriskrntt1's picture

Sorry but airlines don't encourage their employees to hang out in an open bar and then go to work and bring their "A" game.  No doubt the employee had a bad moment; however, clue # 1 is that a van was hired because it was known people would be drinking.  Clue # 2 is an open bar.  You don't put people in this environment and expect everyone to have great behaviour and great results.  You don't put people in an environment of failure. 

Open bar = HUGE potential for drunkeness and bad behaviour.  Yet, people are shocked when it happens?  No way.  Not saying the direct has zero responsibility here but this should not have been unexpected.  If not by her, then someone.  I am pretty sure this is not the first time in the company's history that this kind of behaviour occured. 

Also, we don't know 100% that this woman took particular advantage of the bar.  Unless the manager was watching her every moment and can say specifically what she had.  From the posting, that is simply conjecture.  Maybe she just had a low tolerance or maybe she had a reaction with a medication.  Who knows.  This situation as given is not so black and white. 

Do you have to have some sort of conversation with the direct? Absolutely.  But to put all the blame on her.  No way.

Again, don't put people in a position where the odds are stacked against them and you won't have issues like this.

jhbchina's picture

My airplane analogy did not intent to focus on the employees of the airline. If they were to get loaded during a weather delay there is no doubt that heads would roll.

My analogy is strictly from the perspective of the airplane itself. Planes are designed with multiple redundant systems. One minor component failure does not lead to a plane crash. There is a ripple effect, such as a suppler did not use an OEM part to repair a minor problem, so during the flight a malfunction light goes on, so the pilot makes a correction, or ignores the light. Each of these minor events combined create a major failure.

As in this discussion, the company sells wines & spirits, holiday party, hired driver, inexperienced employee.

JHB "00"

mmann's picture

 

Of course... WonderFig will never get into what led up to the inappropriate contact or who's to blame because that would be about the past.  We all know that feedback is about the future.

 

--Michael

Success09's picture

When we have company parties or the group gets together for dinner I always say no to the drinks. I want to remain professional.  I have seen too many co workers drink a bit too much and pay the price once everyone returns to work.

maud1959's picture

I have seen many careers go down the drain due to being intoxicated during company functions.  We know alcohol changes some people's behaviour and not everyone has the mechanism to stop drinking once they start.  Why do we continue to serve alcohol at company functions?  it is counter productive.  We want people to be "themselves" to have fun, let loose, get to know each other, bond and all that jazz.  We provide alcohol to help the process and when it happens the person especially if she is a woman, then becomes the gossip target at the company.  I am not saying that I am pro/against, but we must understand when play with fire what can happen.  Again and again, companies are trying to make their employees like family -- we are not.   Should we look at how we try to get our colleagues to let loose, relax and bond?

timrutter's picture

....or should people take and be encouraged to take some personal responsibility? Employees get nice company vehicles that go faster than the speed limit. Giving them those cars does not mean we are encouraging them to speed, but if we serve alcohol at company functions, as managers, we are purportedly responsible when our directs fail to behave responsibly.

Obesity is rife on the Western World, should we only serve salad at these functions as well?

Sorry, this is a topic that really brings out some core irritations with me!

 

Graaace's picture

There is no doubt your assistant's behavior was inappropriate; you need to address that.  The implied expectation is that when drinking at a company event you will exhibit enough self control to not overdo it.  Just like when you're given a company car the implied expectation is that you will be responsible and not speed recklessly etc.  Your assistant made an error in judgment and drank too much which resulted in her inappropriate behavior.  Yes, history has taught us that a lot of people at companies around the world make this same mistake so it should come as no surprise when it does happen, but even with the expectation that someone somewhere is going to overdo it when alcohol is present it doesn't negate the need for feedback.  Since alcohol is served at your company events you know your assistant is not the first person to overdo it and definitely won't be the last.  You need to give her feedback so she knows her behavior was not acceptable to you to hopefully get your desired outcome, namely that she will not behave the same way at your next company event.

While there is merit to the discussions about people taking responsiblity for their drinking versus companies putting them in vulnerable positions by serving alcohol, in this case because the company we're taking about is in the business of selling/producing wine and spirits it would seem incongruous for them not to serve alcohol at their events.  Besides correcting behavior, Wonderfig's feedback would also be the responsible thing to do to caution the assistant about drinking too much.

L

twaldo's picture

I agree with previous comments that the company may be partly to blame. Yes, you work for a company that produces these beverages. That doesn't mean the wine and spirits should be free flowing. Next year, try an alternative. You will likely run in to resistance if you try to institute a pay bar, so maybe try a drink ticket system. People are allowed 4-5 free drinks over the course of the evening. Once the tickets are gone, then no more alcohol will be served.

This way, everyone still gets to drink for free and still gets to have a wonderful time, but most people will be able to handle their 4-5 drinks.

 

As far as addressing her, I hope you did so in a gentle and professional manner. She probably spent all week stressing about seeing you and probably felt like an idiot as soon as she woke up the next morning.

ken_wills's picture

 I second TWaldo's suggestion.

 

Several years ago, I was promoted to lead a large team (50+ people) that got together for multi-day status meetings once or twice a year.  The team had a well-earned reputation for turning the evening portions of these meetings into full-blown bacchanalia (sp? you know: lots of bad behavior fueled by wine and booze!).

 

Under the guise of belt-tightening due to an economic downturn, I instituted a drink coupon arrangement in lieu of open bar.  We actually provided only TWO coupons to cover a cocktail hour and dinner.  I figured that people who wanted more would find tickets from people who drank less, so it would all work out.

 

Although there was some initial grumbling, the behavior improved considerably.