A reader writes:
We have one employee who is not interested in attending our annual holiday party. We only have 3 employees; the other 2 are coming, and several of our clients and other business associates are coming. Is there anything I can do as a manager to suggest that the employee consider his actions? I don’t want to tell the employee that he is expected to attend, but by not coming he will offend myself, my partners, his other co-workers, and possibly our clients (they will at least ask where he is, and it will be odd or uncomfortable).
I understand that you don't want to be in the position of requiring employees to attend something that's likely intended as a morale-building treat, but because you've invited clients and business associates -- and because you're a small company, meaning that the clients and business associates will likely outnumber employees -- in many ways this is a business function.
The employee, on the other hand, is likely thinking of it as a party, not a business function, and thus feels as free to decline the invitation as he would any other social invitation. Clearly there are work repercussions to him not attending, so I think you should be honest with him: Tell him that this is a business function and it will reflect poorly on him if he's not there.
If you don't want to require him to go, you can tell him it's his choice -- but at that point, he's likely to feel pressured into going and may resent being told it's his choice when it's clear you really expect him to attend. So if you make it optional, I think you have to be genuine about it -- i.e., don't penalize him (even in your own mind) for not going.
Companies usually hold these events because they believe they build employee morale -- but it's important to take a look at whether they actually do. I once worked at an organization that threw numerous "social" events for the staff. Despite ostensibly being parties, we were clearly expected to show up, and we heard about it if we didn't -- and it made us not appreciate the parties at all. If you have staffers who just don't enjoy these functions, requiring their presence under the guise of giving them a treat isn't going to build morale; it's going to hurt it. I think the answer is to be honest -- if there's a business purpose, be honest about that and require attendance. But if it's truly supposed to be for the staff's enjoyment, accept that some people won't show up because they don't enjoy such events (or would rather spend their off hours doing something else), and be okay with that.
Anyone else have thoughts? I suspect it's a hot topic.