Happy hours have become a staple at many organizations, especially startups. While I believe they're well-intentioned and usually seen as a way to help team members bond and blow off steam, I'm officially over them.
In fact, I'd go so far as to recommend that companies consider completely replacing work-sponsored happy hours with something else this year!
**cue audible gasp**
Listen, I get it.
I myself enjoy a good drink.
That said, there are three big reasons I am recommending employers spend their money elsewhere this year.
Three reasons why alcohol was never a good idea at work
Alcohol can so easily to lead to bad decisions. Sure, it's absolutely possible to have a drink or two and remain completely professional. But it's also incredibly easy to consume too many drinks – and that usually never ends well. Besides, if you're paying your employees a fair, more-than-livable wage (which you should be, especially if you're throwing happy hours) they can easily afford to take themselves out to drinks - whether that's with their friends, colleagues, or trivia team.
Not everyone drinks – sometimes for good reasons. When your social activities center mostly around alcohol, it can feel alienating to people who don't drink, whether by choice or necessity. Yes, they can have something non-alcoholic, but that's not the point. Why would you want to put someone sober under that kind of pressure? There is a culture that goes along with drinking and (for many reasons) they may not want to take part in it in an effort to feel included.
Your employees just don't care that much about happy hours. In all my years working with talent, I've never once heard someone say, "I'm taking a new job because Acme Co just doesn't throw enough happy hours!" On the other hand, incredible employees quit every single day over bad management, a lack of growth opportunities, extreme stress levels, etc. The money you spend sponsoring happy hours would be better spent addressing these problems.
Here are five company programs that are better than work happy hours
1. Employee Feedback
I frequently speak on cultivating more honesty in the workplace and truly believe the future belongs to the companies who are able to foster and act on it. So often leaders wait to collect feedback until an employee's exit interview - but that's way too late! There are tons of affordable tools out there (a few of my favorites being 15Five, Clarity Wave, and Culture Amp) that give your employees a voice and help you unearth points of tension, many of which can be addressed through small, consistent changes.
2. Management training
Whether you launch an in-house program or hire a third party (like us!) to implement it, manager training is one of the most powerful gifts you can give your entire team. It's often said that people quit their managers, not their job. However, we don't talk enough about what makes someone a bad boss and why it's often not their fault. Investing in your manager's growth and development is a direct invest to the retention of your best employees - both the managers themselves and the people they lead.
3. Audible and book access
Instead of buying your team a drink, why not buy them a book? Or better yet, give them a stipend to buy the books that are most interesting to them specifically! Audible has a business program that allows your employees access to dozens of titles. I've also seen many companies load a bookshelf with titles that their employees can grab at any point, while others give each new hire a kindle and a $30 a month book stipend. Or better yet, start your own internal podcast with experts from each department teaching everyone something new. However you decide to approach it, there's no better gift than knowledge!
4. Professional Development Budget
Are you starting to see a theme here? There's something incredibly powerful about investing in the growth and success of your employees. It shows them you believe in their potential, while also allowing them to gain skills that will help drive your business forward. While you may not have the ability to send someone back to school, I think every company can give their team members a small professional development budget. Even $500 a year gives your team members the incentive to seek out training programs, industry events, and membership groups that can improve their lives and your business.
5. Summer Fridays
Multiple studies have shown the benefit of four day work week, both for employees and the bottom line. While it's not realistic for everyone to jump into a four day work week, I love how Basecamp explored the idea over the summertime. In most of the world, summer is the time you're even more antsy to spend hours outside of work, whether it's the draw of the warm weather or the fact that kids are out of school. Allowing employees one more day of freedom through Summer Fridays not only improves their morale, but has also been shown to do so without reducing productivity. While it doesn't work in all businesses or industries, it's definitely something worth considering!
Whatever you choose to focus your investment on this year, I hope it leads to your team feeling more productive, informed, and engaged!
To happier employees,