Successful Supervisor Holiday – To Socialize or Not

December 24, 2017

I am often asked if it is a good or bad idea for a supervisor to socialize with subordinates outside of work. There are a lot of tradeoffs, and this is a complex question. I break down the variables in this article.

Some Tips and Guidelines

It is often a quandary for leaders at all levels to know whether or not to socialize with workers at events on holidays or after work. Here are some tips that may help the decision process:

1. It is Situational

There are times where it is expected for a supervisor to participate and there are other situations where it could be a mistake to socialize. You need to use good judgment and follow some consistent pattern.

2. Follow Corporate Guidelines

Often the corporate policy on socializing has some guidance for certain types of events. If you are not familiar with the rules in your organization, check with Human Resources.

3. Test Comfort Level

The most important consideration is whether the employees, and you, are all comfortable with your attendance. If several people (including you) have some reservations, it is better to take a rain check.

4. Be Consistent

If you decide to attend certain types of functions, like for example birthday parties offsite, you need to do the same for everyone when schedules permit. If you attend a party for one person but not another, you will appear to be playing favorites.

5. Discuss the Topic

It would be a good idea to have an open discussion at work about this subject to get an idea how most people feel about it before establishing your pattern.

6. Avoid Alcohol

If alcohol is involved, you need to especially wary of accepting drinks. I remember one supervisor who became totally drunk at an event because his underlings kept buying him cocktails. It was a very bad scene.

7. No Physical Contact (except handshakes)

Unless you have a very friendly group, it is best to avoid any activity that involves physical contact, like dancing for instance. You can quickly get into a compromised position quite innocently. In some groups hugging is the accepted behavior, but it is best to avoid all physical contact unless you are personal friends with the person.

8. Follow the Local Convention

Take notice of the habits of other leaders that you respect in your organization. If they refrain from attending social events, then you are wise to be especially conservative.

9. One Location Only

Try to avoid parties that start out in a public restaurant but migrate to another location. If you find an instance where the party breaks off to a person’s house, it is best to leave the event at that point.

10. Don’t Gamble

Do not participate in any kind of gambling when out with employees, just as you should refrain from these activities at work. This includes any kind of betting on the outcome of sporting events.

11. Do Not Drive People Home

Do not volunteer to take intoxicated employees home. Contact a ride share service or get them a taxi cab.

Limit Your Risk

The above tips are some general precepts that may help you think about the issue more deeply. Here are a few suggestions of how to limit your risk:

1. Don’t Stay for the Whole Party

Consider making a brief appearance near the start of the event, but not participate in the entire thing. This allows you to show respect for everyone, but avoids a lot of jeopardy. Watch the body language carefully to see if people are offended at your leaving early. If so, stay longer, but leave as soon as you reasonably can. The risk grows exponentially as the party carries on into the night.

2. Show Your Concern

The best place to put limits on your outside socializing is when you are at work. Show your concern by your body language and hesitation if you think you might be getting into a compromising situation.

3. You are Still On Duty

Remember that even though you are physically “off duty,” your relationships with the people who work for you are still very much “on duty.” Things that you say or do at a party can have significant impacts on how your operation runs the next day and also on your level of control.

Socializing with people who work for you can be helpful or it can lead to all kinds of problems. Approach these situations with a great deal of care. Whenever there is a doubt, always take the most conservative posture.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at, or 585.392.7763