Inviting non-employees to company events

Should invitations be extended to employees’ friends and families?

Question: A number of our employees have approached us saying they would like to bring a guest or partner with them to company social gatherings, retreats and awards ceremonies. This can be a bit awkward. What are best practices relating to the extension of invitations to non-employees for events?

Answer: The answer to this question depends on a number of different factors, including the nature, purpose, timing, duration, location and costs of the event and the policies, resources, culture and values of the organization. It also depends on whether the event is being held during work time or after hours and whether it is held on the premises or off-site.

While a holiday party is probably the type of event where employees should be allowed to bring a guest and an off-site working session is likely best limited to employees, a team-building event held during working hours would likely best be restricted to employees only. In fact, anything purely work-related, informational or confidential in nature should probably be limited to internal attendees.

Concerts, sporting events

On the other hand, some organizations provide employees with tickets to events that are designed purely for amusement, so the availability of tickets to non-employees depends on why the event is being offered in the first place. Are tickets being provided for entertaining clients or as a perk and reward for a job well done?

Unless a special event (such as a private concert) is set up by an organization solely for employees and is designed to enhance employee morale and engagement, or to facilitate marketing and branding efforts by mixing entertainment with the provision of promotional company information and team-building activities, employers should consider allowing employees to bring one or more guests with them.

Where employers are only able to provide a limited number of free or subsidized tickets, they may consider allowing employees to bring only one guest or allow them to purchase additional tickets for their friends and family members (either at regular or discounted prices, likely up to a maximum number).

This is particularly important where employees are required to work long hours, travel extensively or spend extended periods of time away from their families. People like to spend time with their friends and families, and they may feel less enthusiastic about attending an event on their own or solely with work colleagues.

Attending a sporting event or concert may be more enjoyable if employees are able to have the people closest to them accompany them, and the organization will likely be thought of more positively for its generosity.

Tips, strategies

Here are some tips and strategies for dealing with this issue:

• Consider establishing an employee committee with a fund employees pay into for the purposes of providing free or discounted tickets to events and activities.

• Determine what to do with contractors and agency employees. Consider allowing them to attend events as well — either on the same terms or by purchasing tickets (perhaps at a discount).

• Don’t forget employees in common-law and same-sex relationships when extending invitations. Similarly, allow single employees or those who aren’t in a relationship to bring a guest (don’t restrict invitations to spouses, partners or significant others).

• Consider allowing employees to have a spouse, partner, family member or friend accompany them on business trips (at their own expense with respect to travel arrangements and food) and share accommodations where possible.

• Determine whether it makes sense to allow employees to bring one or more guests to awards ceremonies, retirement gatherings, milestone celebrations or other special events. This is particularly important in the case of award winners, inductees or guests of honour.

• Consider offering company discounts to events and activities through a rewards and recognition provider.

• Avoid restricting holiday parties and other after-hours events that are purely social to employees only. If cost is an issue, consider charging guests for a ticket (and perhaps employees as well, although the cost of tickets may be subsidized).

• Develop policies relating to specific types of events. Be transparent in any communications with employees regarding company events that are restricted to internal invitees only, and explain the rationale for not allowing them to bring guests.

Brian Kreissl is the Toronto-based product development manager for Carswell’s human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.

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