How After-Hours Events Can Make Your Business Stronger

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The U.S. Navy has given us a lot of great stuff: all the best scenes in “Top Gun,” that one guy in the Village People, and happy hour.

Happy hour—brought to us by the early 20th century Navy—originally designated a chunk of time when sailors could blow off steam through group sports, dances, or film viewings.

In short: it was a way to boost sailor (employee) morale.

Happy employees are the best employees, which means that social activities such as workplace happy hours can foster colleague camaraderie and function as an effective investment.

Let’s take a look at how happy hours and other social activities can help your business, why their return on investment is so high, and how to make yours a winner.

How After-Hours Events Can Make Your Business Stronger

Why should you try office happy hours?

Working side-by-side builds good rapport but falls short of allowing people to build real friendships. According to research on workplace relationships, “employees’ perceptions of friendship opportunities in the workplace have direct effects on job involvement and job satisfaction.”

Friends working together do better work than mere colleagues. While the main point of holding a happy hour, running a Spartan Race, or any other work-sponsored group activity isn’t to force friendship on your employees (the social pressure of Facebook friend requests does that for you), these activities do give your employees a chance to interact with people they might not see that much of during work hours.

Coworkers chatting in a lighted bar sceneHappiness comes in small doses [Source: Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas]

Deeper relationships forged during group outings (or after-hours events in your office) will then make the work done back in the office the next day better. As those relationships deepen, quality and job satisfaction should increase.

The same Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study found that “[Friends] performed significantly better than acquaintance groups on both decision-making and motor tasks because of a greater degree of group commitment and cooperation.”

Indirect benefits

Happy hours and group events provide indirect benefits for your business, the most significant of which is being known as a nice place to work.

Happy people share their happiness with their friends. Most of us—but younger generations in particular—have online social “profiles [that] project a positive image.” We share the good things we’re a part of to promote a positive view of our lives and the best version of ourselves.

If social posts from happy employees come with a mention of your company, it brands your business as a pleasant place to work. A place where employees can interact socially, and even have a drink or good food on the house.

Regular happy hours are a niche perk advertised to potential employees all the time. When someone asks what working at Capterra is like, I don’t bring up all the everyday perks—snacks, open office plan, and flexible vacation. Instead, I talk about the things that stand out—our arcade machine, group Ultimate Frisbee games, Halloween craziness, and monthly chair massages.

Capterra's employees in Halloween costumes in 2014Capterra’s 2014 Halloween

A happy hour is great perk. Once, I applied for a job in Durham, NC at an ad agency that had a small bar setup in the office for post work beers. When I took a tour, that one aspect accounted for about 60% of their office culture pitch, which was actually a good call, as I loved the idea of having a beer in the office.

Return on investment

ChoosePeople generated a detailed breakdown of the theoretical cost of an unhappy employee versus a happy one. Based on a $40,000 salary, they figured an unhappy employee costs a business more than $38,000 each year.

Let’s take a conservative approach and assume that the only difference between an unhappy employee and a happy one is that the unhappy individual is slightly less productive. In a 40-hour workweek, they waste an hour. This means that their employer is losing about $25 in productivity each week. Scale that up to five employees. Now, you’re looking at a weekly loss of $125, and a monthly loss around $500 .

Can you throw a decent happy hour once a month for $400? I bet you can. You can throw a happy hour that far exceeds decent for five people for that amount. If you can, and it improves employee happiness, you’ll net $100 in recovered value every month.

Increased productivity

Happy employees aren’t just slightly more engaged, they’re 12% more productive, according to recent research. To get that boost in productivity, you’ll have to find a way to keep your employees happy.

Unfortunately, happiness isn’t simply a byproduct of pay. You can’t just give people more cash to make them happy. You can give them work-related experiences that generate happiness, ultimately making them more productive.

A wellness program that takes social activities, quiet time, exercise, and health into account can round out a good pay package. While a meditation lounge won’t make up for offering 80% of the market rate to new employees, it can help keep them happy and productive once they’re hired.

How to implement a happy hour at your office

Before I give you three simple tips for putting on an office happy hour, there’s one ultimate rule I want to cover: safety is more important than any other component.

Whether you opt for a happy hour, a boating trip, a movie night, or an office pingpong table, safety is paramount. Your employees will make individual decisions about their level of engagement, but as their employer it’s on you to ensure everyone stays safe.

Drinking mixes poorly with:

  • Driving. Have a plan in place for limits on consumption or rides to get people home.
  • Work. This should be a time to get away from email and the phones. Treat it as such.
  • Unsupervised interactions. Keep the group—and the drinks—in one area where you’ve set clear behavior expectations and beverage allowances.

Once you’ve covered those bases, follow these three tips for running an excellent office happy hour:

1. Offer something for everyone

You have employees who don’t drink for health, religious, or social reasons, and interns under the age of 21. You may have pregnant employees, marathon runners, or people on medications that shouldn’t mix with alcohol.

Give everyone something to enjoy.

A group of people relaxing at sunset on a dock with lounge chairs on the water
A happy hour by the water is a great option. [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

Soda, sparkling water, pigs in blankets, veggie trays, cookies, coffee, tea, and cheese platters are great finger food and booze alternatives. You can even make your happy hours booze free (gasp!). It’ll keeps costs lower and make it easier for everyone to enjoy.

Remember: your goal is employee happiness, not ostracism.

2. Listen to your employees while planning

Some people have kids to pick up or dogs to let out, and some can’t stay late on Wednesdays. Five employees have five different schedules, so let them help choose times and locations.—I like Google Forms for this.

You can’t make everyone happy every time, but you can make different people happy each time. Change the date up each month, or offer a corresponding morning happy hour with coffee and donuts.

If you go out to a local bar, vote on the location so you’re not just hanging out at a certain employee’s favorite. If you offer free drinks and food, you’ll be surprised by how quickly people get involved in the planning process.

3. Don’t make it obligatory

While you won’t set out to make company social events feel compulsory, you can imply obligation in a lot of little ways. If you call out employees who didn’t go last time in casual conversation or use happy hour as a chance to deliver important information, you’re making it an obligation.

Don’t cajole or plead. Invite, welcome, and make considerations for individual preferences. Let your employees decide from there.

People are happy when they’re treated like autonomous individuals with desires, plans, and schedules of their own. Let your employees express their autonomy by coming when they want and skipping when they don’t.

Alternative routes

Remember that you don’t have to make happy hour The Thing you do. I love the idea because it’s low cost, has a low barrier to entry, and is relatively easy to plan, but there are plenty of great group activities that can have the same effect.

Sports is one of the more popular options. Lunchtime team sports with rotating schedules can be a great way to get people together. Soccer this week, basketball the next, and ping pong the third week. Find a set of options that your employees enjoy and that meets various levels of physical abilities.

Board games are another great way to get people talking and interacting without having to hit the showers afterward.

Whatever you settle on, just make sure you plan and do it right. Figure out what your employees want, and figure out how you can give it to them. A diverse set of employees engaged in a fun activity is a crucial component to any event’s success.

If you’ve had luck with a company happy hour or other regular outings, let me know in the comments or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear about it; I’m always looking for ideas.

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Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder is a former Capterra analyst.

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