Ho-Ho-Holidays Can Be Problem for Small Businesses

By | December 8, 2010

The holiday season isn’t necessarily the most joyous time of the year for small businesses.

Holiday parties and celebrations can turn unpleasant if employees or guests misbehave. Productivity can drop when employees are distracted by all the personal things, including shopping, they have to take care of.

And at many small businesses, the economy is putting a damper on yet another holiday season.

A look at holiday trouble spots, and how owners should handle them:


Alcohol is usually the culprit when the company party leads to problems. Employees or guests who have too much to drink can forget the rules against sexual harassment. Or drink so much that they could get into an accident. In either case, a company can find itself in legal trouble.

Clearly, the safest alternative is to have an alcohol-free party. But there are ways for an owner to limit alcohol consumption. One is to have a cash bar. People are less likely to drink to excess when they’re paying for their drinks. Another is to serve drinks only for a specific period at the start of the party (but be sure there’s food available). It’s probably not a good idea to just put wine and liquor out without a bartender or someone who keeps an eye on how much everyone is drinking.

Some companies issue drink tickets to employees and guests, who then give them to a bartender. The potential pitfall with that system is if employees give away their tickets to someone else who then drinks too much.

Rick Gibbs, a senior human resources specialist with Administaff, a Houston-based company that provides HR outsourcing, says owners need to remind employees long before the party begins that while it’s a celebration, it’s also a work-related event. And that employees, while hopefully having a good time, will also need to behave professionally.

Owners and their managers need to be supervisors as much as partygoers. “They’re obligated to keep an eye on people and certainly to set a good example as far as behavior,” Gibbs said.

And if it looks like someone has already had too much to drink, it’s time to tell the bartender to cut them off.

Gibbs also suggests owners plan to have taxis, car services or designated drivers to be sure everyone gets home safely.


Many workers are distracted during the holiday season, particularly by the need to shop for family and friends. It can be very tempting to do it during work hours, either online or by taking a long lunch.

Gibbs suggests “being a bit forgiving” when staffers take a break from their work to do some shopping. If their productivity is suffering, then it’s time for a reminder that work needs to come first.


Although business is getting better for many small companies, others are still dealing with a difficult economy. A big example: Many real estate agencies have little to celebrate now.

But with the new year approaching, many employees are likely to be wondering what the outlook is for the new year. If they haven’t gotten raises for a couple of years, they’re going to be particularly interested in what’s ahead. And so the boss may be fielding some pointed questions.

Human resources consultants have been advising their small business clients ever since the start of the recession three years ago to be honest with employees. And that honesty needs to continue now, even if business still looks uncertain.

Gibbs recommends that any holiday celebration be a time for marking staffers’ achievements and contributions to the company. And for owners to thank them for the sacrifices most workers have had to make over the past few years.


Most people know that the joy-filled holiday celebrations in TV commercials and magazine ads just aren’t realistic. The holidays are stressful times for most people. And for some, they’re depressing. Gibbs recommends that owners keep an eye out for any employees who seem to be having a hard time during the holidays.

Owners can also be proactive and remind the staff that if staffers or their families are having a hard time, they can get help. If the company doesn’t have a contract with an employee assistance program, an owner can provide a list of local resources and help lines where staffers can turn.

Topics Commercial Lines Business Insurance Human Resources Small Business

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