THE BLOG
12/19/2013 10:36 am ET | Updated Feb 18, 2014

Why You Should Make Your Next Company Event a Family Affair

Whenever I hear the name IBM, I get all warm and tingly inside.

My father worked there for 18 years when I was young and I still fondly remember IBM's two annual events. One was a summer picnic with food, games and activities for the parents and children; I've even kept a few of the ribbons I won for the hop sack race and tug of war. The other was a holiday party that was always held at different interesting places. I was particularly excited to go on the historic ocean liner The Queen Mary and recall sitting happily on the lap of IBM's Santa. These were simple, relatively inexpensive events, but they won the company a special place in my heart.

Thirty-seven years after my first party, I am still affectionately talking about what a great company IBM is -- even though I never worked there. This is the unforeseen power of touching the hearts of your employees as well as those they love. When IBM connected my father's family to their organization, they further engaged him, increased good word of mouth in their communities, and created disciples for their business.

Building an endearing company brand and retaining employees is harder than ever these days. Companies will make all kinds of tactical efforts, from increasing pay or promoting valued employees that threaten to leave to contractually barring leaders from taking talent when they leave the organization. Good managers strategically prioritize engagement because they've read all the studies showing the link between engaging your employees and keeping and attracting more talent, spreading a positive message about your company, and selling more products. But the best form of engagement is still simple: showing you care for your employees and their loved ones.

This is why I have always made a practice of inviting spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, and children to my company events. I always felt honored to meet the families and loved ones of my employees and always came away with a deeper appreciation of who they are as people.

Employees also act differently when they are at company gatherings with those they love. They share more and build closer bonds with their co-workers. When you introduce loved ones into your business, jobs become more than just a 9 to 5 paycheck; they become part of your employee's lives.

The practice of inviting loved ones to celebrations like holiday parties may also have an unexpected benefit -- a reduction in employee relation issues (and possibly employee divorces) that arise when you mix unlimited alcohol, dancing, hotel rooms, and no partners. As an HR leader for over a decade, I can't recall a year where I wasn't consulted about an issue that stemmed from an employee only company event.

In a Forbes survey, 23 percent of respondents said they knew someone who has been reprimanded by their employer for employee party behavior, 20 percent reported having had too much to drink and 14 percent knew someone who was fired due to antics at an event. In a Men's Health magazine survey, 44 percent of the males said they'd had an affair with a co-worker at an office party at least once in their life.

While the cost of a company event will certainly go up by inviting loved ones, the return on investment of connecting your employees' most valued relationships to your business, building a caring and family-friendly brand, and reducing the cost of expensive employee relations issues and additional recruiting will contribute to your bottom line every time.