Why You Should Not Have a Work Potluck

Employers need to throw out potlucks with the shredded focus

Maybe there are people out there who really love potlucks. Some company owners and directors throw potlucks because they get people together for an event and discussion while putting the burden of expense on the employees.

If you are a company owner or supervisor, you should rethink potlucks. Potlucks are an imposition on your staff, and you should know better. Your employees might be participating in potlucks with their usual good nature, but that doesn’t mean they enjoy them.

It’s not team building, it’s judgment and competition

By the time everyone shows up late to work because they have to carry food from their cars to the office, waste time putting it in the refrigerator, check on it mid-morning, then re-plate it for the buffet, you’ve lost one man hour per person.

Add the loss of time from those who forgot all about it. Now they have to take time away from their projects, run to the grocery store, and get food.

Then add up the time it takes to bundle everything up into plastic containers, put it back in the refrigerator, clean the kitchen, and wash all the dishes.

Now factor in that everyone overeats at potlucks. Some people think you have to eat a portion from every single dish and compliment people on their cooking skills. This is not an effective use of everyone’s time.

Finally, you’re going to have slow-moving, muddled employees all afternoon, now, because of the overeating and carb loading. Who invented this atrocity?

Potlucks make you look cheap

If you can’t afford to have an event catered or take your employees out to lunch or dinner, just don’t have meals together. It’s not team building if someone has to go home after a hard day’s work and bake three dozen cookies–on their own time. The exception would be if you’re paying everyone fifty dollars for their contribution. Otherwise you’re making your employees work for free.

If you must throw a potluck, be sure to do it safely

Except for the few vegetarians among your staff who will protect themselves by bringing crudite platters, everyone will bring meatballs, ham, and pastries. 

If you must throw a potluck, make sure that several people are bringing raw fruit and vegetable dishes. This will ensure that there are a few healthy, low-carbohydrate options on the buffet table. 

It’s also a good idea to ask people not to bring cheese or dairy dishes or egg dishes. These items are especially vulnerable to bacterial incursions.

Ask people to bring only vinaigrette salad dressings because these do not go toxic anywhere near so quickly as dairy based dressings like ranch or blue cheese. 

Some employers really love potlucks and fall back on themseveral times a year.

If your company budget for entertainment is that low, you should at least observe basic safety guidelines for preventing food poisoning. 

Meats, cheeses, and dairy dishes must not be left outside the refrigerator for more than twenty minutes. This means that you can NOT put all the food on the table, wait for people to arrive, have a long group prayer, and then let people eat. 

If you must throw a potluck, put the non-perishable items on the table first. The bread and undressed salad greens, carrot sticks, and vegan hummus, for instance, can be put out in advance. Everything else should stay in the refrigerator until it is time to start eating.

Wait until people are gathered before putting out the perishable dishes, like chicken, beef, cheese, salad dressing, etc. 

Be sure to keep your vulnerable employees’ health in mind

In planning and directing a potluck, keep in mind that many of your employees may have chronic health issues that are not improved by eating rich food that has been sitting out for too long. 

For example, there’s a good chance that at least some of your employees are diabetic and/or overweight. This makes them vulnerable to food-born diseases. It also means they should not be eating desserts with undisclosed ingredients.

Be advised that any employees who have had organ transplants, like a kidney transplant or heart transplant, are never supposed to eat at potlucks and buffets. Employers must make it clear that these events are voluntary. People who want to opt out should be able to do so without fear of repercussions. 

It is not fair to hold a potluck and then make non-attendance an issue when writing employee evaluations. No one needs to write “needs to improve collegiality” or “doesn’t engage positively with other staff” on a review because someone didn’t want to participate in a social event. 

What are the good alternatives to potlucks?

These days, it’s better to have a virtual meeting if you can. Zoom and other meeting platforms make it relatively easy to have meetings without gathering in person.

But many employers feel that it is important to socialize with employees. If you must have a social event, consider holding the event outdoors. A picnic at a park, for instance, keeps employees safer and offers opportunities for people to stay at safe distances from one another. 

Whatever event you decide to have, use the KVA Plan. There’s always a safer way to do something. With the KVA Plan, you can plan the safest meeting ever.

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