St. Patrick’s Day is one of the biggest bar days across the land.
This year at my company, we certainly participated — but we also make a habit of regular trips to bars on a monthly basis, with tremendously positive results.
Here are four reasons that incorporating happy hour into your company culture might lead to bona fide happiness.
1. It’s powerfully symbolic
My company is based in Utah, where alcohol — owing to unique cultural dynamics — carries heady symbolic significance. For those seeking to join our team, it signals permission.
It says it’s OK to be gay, atheist; to have dyed hair or facial tattoos (or both, if you prefer); to have super weird hobbies — the list goes on.
In other words, regular trips to the bar indicate that you can be yourself, without having to hide or fake anything. We just want the best people, and if you share our vision and values, we’ll love you as you are.
Non-drinkers are welcome, too, of course, and digging into a delicious appetizer while hobnobbing with friends in a mellow environment can be just as freeing as sipping your favorite cocktail.
The symbolic significance of sharing a beer isn’t limited to a particular state. It can be seen as defying a sense of corporatism and conformity in general.
That kind of defiance is highly energizing. If an infusion of energy is just what your company needs right now, happy hour might be just what the doctor ordered.
2. It encourages openness
For some, it’s easier to be honest when they have a drink or two in them. They can discuss subjects that they’d normally be too nervous to bring up, but that a good CEO sure as hell should want to hear.
For example, a few years back we were having trouble with an engineer whose personality had proved toxic to our culture. We did everything we could to work with him, without much success.
One evening, while hanging with the company at our favorite watering hole, I happened to be sitting by an engineer and designer who worked closely with him. The conversation was unguarded, because in the moment we were speaking as plain old friends and peers.
For the first time, I got an up-close view of just how bad the situation was. This wasn’t gossip. It was an authentic expression of frustration and pain.
I decided there and then that we’d given him enough chances and that it was time to let him go. The positive impact on his team was immediate, and I stopped prolonging the inevitable because of a forthright moment in a bar.
If I learn 10 important things from employees in a given month, at least a few are occasioned by that one-hour stretch when I take everybody out for drinks. Some of our most fun times as a company are also some of our most valuable.
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3. It’s an equalizer
When you’re at a bar with everyone sitting or standing around the same table, there’s an incredible sense of camaraderie that has no patience for differences in rank or time served.
It delights me to see junior engineers standing shoulder-to-shoulder with executives, everyone freely talking about work, family, movies, etc. It’s yet another reminder that we are all equals in this company, and that everyone matters.
On the other hand, imagine if it were just the executives who went out for drinks, occasionally inviting employees who perform especially well as a reward. What kind of message would that send?
I’m thinking something like, “Congratulations, peon, come spend an evening with your betters.”
4. It heightens intimacy
More than one employee has told me that it was their first visit to the bar with the company that really helped them start to feel at home. A process that might have taken weeks took hours instead.
It’s all about context and environment. It’s all about entering a mindset where you can open up and be more genuine and reflective, versus the formal, disciplined mode that takes over when you’re in the confines of an office.
Whenever we hire an employee, we announce it in the general channel in Slack. This happened recently, and I was stoked to observe the immediate outpouring of sincere welcome that flooded down the screen as person after person greeted their new colleague.
I’m not claiming that these displays of fellowship are owed to any one factor. A shared belief in the vision, values and mission of our company is without a doubt our most unifying element.
When reaching for an unreachable star, however–such as building a thriving business in a hypercompetitive world — the more tools in your tool belt, the better.
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