The Case of the Tradeshow Hangovers
Two employees push the “stays in Vegas” motto too far.
“OK, HAVE FUN, you two,” Sharonda Jackson, owner of Xtra Signs said to new employees Michael Kaplan and Jordan Ings. “But not too much fun,” she added with a laugh. “You know we’re all in seminars in the morning.” Michael and Jordan, who together were known as MJ, nodded to Sharonda saying, “Yeah, sure, of course!”
The duo then broke off from the group of nine remaining Xtra Signs employees, including Sharonda, who were boarding the last shuttle of the night, leaving the USA Sign Expo’s “Big Bash,” following the first day of the largest sign tradeshow in the country. After an exceptionally profitable previous year, Sharonda had decided to both reward and invest in her employees by bringing the entire team for the first time.
ABOUT REAL DEAL
Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are NOT a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Created by ROLF L’MAO, Signs of the Times’ mascot. Email him at [email protected].
The 11 from Xtra Signs had arrived in Las Vegas the evening before, after a long day that had seen them button up crucial items at the shop before rushing to their late-afternoon flight out of Detroit. Even though the time zone change made it three hours “earlier” upon arrival, fewer than half took Sharonda up on her offer to buy a round of drinks at the hotel/casino bar. MJ were among those who accepted.
Michael and Jordan had become fast friends and great collaborators at work. Both were designers, two of the three hires Sharonda had made in the previous 18 months, as she keenly had identified design services as an area she could expand during the pandemic. And staffing up had worked: Xtra Signs was ready when demand picked up as pandemic restrictions eased.
The next morning, the first day of the expo, the entire team met in the lobby at 8:30 a.m. for a quick pep talk and reminder from Sharonda as to what their responsibilities were for the day. Then everyone boarded the shuttle for the convention center. Throughout the day, Sharonda passed this employee and that on the tradeshow floor, including the inseparable MJ. Everyone was excited and eager to tell of what they’d already seen and learned.
By the time the employees from Xtra Signs convened in the expo center’s adjacent ballroom for the evening’s “Big Bash,” Sharonda was filled with satisfaction that she had done the right thing by bringing the entire team …
Free beer and wine tend to lead some to excess, and when the party was concluding a couple of hours later, most of the team agreed to head back to their hotel and casino to end the evening closer to their beds.
Michael and Jordan, who appeared little more than buzzed, wanted to venture into the Vegas night. It was their first visit, not even 10 p.m., and they wanted to see some famous places. “OK, have fun, you two,” Sharonda said …
The morning of the second day of the show saw the team assemble again at 8:30 a.m. — with the exception of MJ. “I’d be surprised if Michael makes it out of the bathroom,” Phil, Michael’s roommate said. “Um, yeah, Jordan’s off to a slow start, too,” Pat added, noting Jordan “hadn’t taken a shower yet when I was leaving the room.”
Sharonda didn’t say anything, but her expression changed. Then she said, “OK, let’s go,” and the team headed over. Throughout the morning, Sharonda waited for word on when M and/or J would make it to the convention hall. Both missed the 10 a.m. branding seminar with Ned Altolini they had registered for and were looking forward to.
During lunch, Sharonda saw Jordan walking slowly up to the table where she and Pat were eating. “I’m so sorry,” Jordan said. “We lost track of time and went a little overboard…” Sharonda raised her eyebrows. “Alright, a lot overboard,” Jordan continued. “Anyway, Michael is really sick. He was doing shots. I don’t know if he’s going to make it today and now he’s too embarrassed to show his face in front of the whole team. So am I…”
Sharonda paused, looked at Jordan, then began her reply.Advertisement
The Big Questions
- What should Sharonda say to Jordan right there in the food court?
- What should she say later, in private?
- And how should she handle Michael — as well as the rest of the team?
Barbara E. S.
[To Jordan in the food court,] “I am glad you could join us. Sorry Michael will not be able to.”
[To Michael and Jordan later,] “You were irresponsible to miss the activities due to over-indulging the night before. This business trip should be professionally rewarding, team building and fun. It will be difficult to forget this experience when planning future events. I expect more, and I think you should apologize to the rest of the team. I cannot make you do that, but it would show your respect for them. In the future I will make expectations clear from the onset. If anyone has a problem with the nature of the event they can choose to decline. Let’s try to put this behind us. I accept your apology.”
[To the Xtra Signs team,] “I’m sure you were as surprised as I was at Jordan and Michael missing meetings due to overindulging the night before. I have addressed the situation with them and next time we will have a conversation about expectations before you commit to participating. Let’s not make this an issue or problem within the team. Let’s all move forward.”
MJ, I totally get the fact you went overboard last night; hope you had fun. Seems like you are paying the price today. Please take care of yourselves … I expect to see you tomorrow morning sharp, and ready to learn. Let’s not have a repeat.
Clear Lake City, TX
It can be easy to want to reprehend them like a couple of unruly students on a class field trip, or say, “What happens in Vegas…” However, a blunder like this would warrant a little chat in the office back home. Both are supposed to be professional adults who are on a paid work trip. I would let both off with a stern warning, that if in any way shape or form I continued to see their behavior come close to what happened in Vegas, I would have to reevaluate their employment in the shop.
Owners/managers must demonstrate compassion for their team, even when they act like idiots. So in front of the team maybe say something like, “Jordan, let’s me and you go check on Michael and make sure he’s going to be OK.”
Once they ensure Michael isn’t in any real danger, she should explain to both that as the owner of the company she is responsible for the well-being of her team, even though they are adults, and it’s not fair to her or their teammates to have their valuable time at the show derailed.
Save punishment for later.
Huntington Beach, CA
I would put them on the next plane home. I would tell them that it doesn’t matter what they do on their own time but … to be where they need to be when it matters.
Well, this has happened to me and my coworker. … [I would say,] “I brought you here under a veil of trust to collaborate with the entire team in a different atmosphere, learn how we can be more productive upon our return and gain new knowledge in our industry both from speakers and others in our field. I also brought you here as a reward for your hard work. Although this was taken advantage of and I will be keeping a close eye on the two of you for the remainder of our stay, make sure this never happens again. If it does, I will not be as forgiving. Take a seat Jordan; have some toast.”
This incident occurred during a business trip funded by the employer; therefore, employment guidelines apply. The manager should discontinue the public conversation but let each team member know that you will need to speak with them separately at a later time. I would prepare for the meetings, keep the conversations short, avoid allowing excuses and state: a) they were selected to attend this conference to gain knowledge and experiences that could be benefit the entire team and company, b) they are representatives of the company and their actions should be as such and c) customers, vendors and business partners could witness their behaviors resulting in a negative opinion for the company. Having fun is part of being a good team; however, a business trip is different from a personal vacation.
As a longtime employee of a sign company (24-plus years), we have seen our fair share of dummies, drunks and drug addicts. We like to call the sign business “the land of misfit toys.” This story is really tame compared to the crazy things I’ve witnessed over the years. So I think they should fire them. Or don’t fire them. It really depends on the person who screwed up and how important they are to the company. People make mistakes and at the least, a hangover would be expected!
While this would be a “work related fun time,” I personally have little tolerance for over-indulging with anything that affects business. Last night before leaving? Don’t matter. Representing our company? Not good. Dumb asses! Here is some caffeine and pain reliever. You are going to regret drinking too much last night. Now go get this, this and this. Carry this. Hurry, LOL.
Hah, thanks for the sneaky shoutout!
Coming from Corporate America … There are rules set before the event and these two employees would have been fired upon return to their home-base offices.
Throw up and show up if you have to, but be there. Warning this time. Termination the next time it happens.
I have seen this scenario first-hand. Although, I was the ringleader. I had flown two of our employees to the show and set them up in another hotel. My intent on going to the show was to give them a break to have some fun. We had just completed a six-month project that was challenging from start to finish. So we did not get much out of the show that year.
In this scenario and on future trips, I would send the crews out a day early to let loose if so desired. Then be ready for the show. It’s hard to blame people for overdoing it in Vegas.
Maybe the best way to handle the situation in front of everyone is by stating that you brought the full team to the expo to have fun but mostly to learn all they can at the expo. Then [in a] private talk to M&J, express your disappointment in them missing the morning (or possibly the whole day). I personally would be happy they had a fun time, especially if it was their first time in Vegas. I understand a little more too. I would have also expected some professionalism from them too and made sure they knew that. It’s a fine line on a business and pleasure trip. What happens in Vegas…
Well what I would want to say and what I actually say would be two different things.
In the food court I would probably say — we will have a discussion about this later.
In private I would say to them both that I am disappointed in their behavior, it sets a bad example for the team and I expected more from them. As new members to the team, they have some fences to mend with their co-workers but let’s put it behind us for now and make our remaining time meaningful.
To the team I would discuss why I felt it was important to bring them to the conference and what my expectations are for the remainder of their time there.
It doesn’t mean they can’t go out and enjoy the sites, sounds and beverages of Vegas but it does mean to be responsible and be where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there.
I would calmly and quietly let both of them know that I was very disappointed in their actions, and we would discuss it further, when back at the office. (And don’t let that happen again at this show!) Back at the office, I would show them the total dollars it cost for us to bring the entire team, and the cost per person for the entire trip. Then ask M & J (separately), what do they think an appropriate action should result from their activities. Usually their proposed actions will be more severe than what I would propose. Nothing you can say, or do, will put them into the seminar, that is water under the bridge, but during the course of the discussion, you should mention that the seminars are recorded and available, would they like to order it? I have invested X dollars in trying to help the staff improve themselves. If they were really interested in the seminar, they should pay for the recorded seminar. But remember when this happened to you.
In public, “We will address this later” and later, “This was unacceptable, consider this a warning, [and] IF you ever miss a scheduled event, meeting or anything else due to over excess you will be suspended pending termination.”
North Charleston, SC
In front of everyone I would have to comment: “I understand this is an exciting city, but you have a responsibility to your fellow workers. And this is not fair to them. Your trip is being paid for by the company and all that is asked of you is to be here and do your part to make this a success. This is not that. If you cannot control yourself, I will have to ask for you to pay for your part of the expenses … This will be overlooked this time but cannot happen again, and you owe everyone here for doing your part. Now let’s try to do a great job and enjoy what is left of our time in Vegas.”
Nevada City, CA
If it were me, I would not say anything to them. In private, I would only say something like, “I hope you’re feeling better.” Since they are new employees I would only monitor their future behavior. Can they self-correct? Actions, not words will get you the response you desire. It appears they feel bad about the situation and I’m not sure the boss’s words will change anything. I’d wait to see if they apologized and, since being new employees I’d keep an eye on their behavior. Maybe this is just a one time thing; time will tell. We have all been to Vegas; it can be overwhelming for anyone. I have worked for three large electrical sign companies in my career. The overbearing boss can be hard on morale.Advertisement
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