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by Vault Careers | November 30, 2011


Thanksgiving is over and offices around the country are gearing up for highly anticipated holiday parties, celebrating a successful year or even lifting spirits during a troubling economy.  Either way, holiday parties are an important way to show employees how much they are appreciated for the hard work they put into the day-to-day operations of a company.  But some office parties run the risk of spinning out of control, dulling the holiday spirits and putting a damper on what should be a fun way to celebrate the season.  Here are some tips on ways to make the office holiday party successful, inexpensive and responsibly fun. 

Make it a holiday party – Just because Christmas might be your favorite holiday, doesn’t mean everyone celebrates it.Know your team and be inclusive to all religions and ethnicities.  Some may be offended if you have a Christmas Party and they are Jewish or Muslim.  You can host a "Holiday Party" in that case, and be careful that it's not centered on Christmas symbols at the exclusion of other holiday symbols.

Choose the right venue – Sometimes the right venue isn’t the most expensive place and sometimes it is.  Depending on your company culture, it is important to choose a location that is suitable for everyone involved.  When I worked at a small community paper, it hosted its holiday parties at a local bar, where it invited its contacts to celebrate with staff over a catered meal and an open bar.  When News Corp. purchased the paper, they hosted the holiday party at a fancy hotel, featuring special rooms designed for different activities – hot food, cold food, desserts, video games, karaoke, etc.  Because it was a large company with such a diverse guest list, there was literally something for everyone involved.  When I worked at the New York Public Library, the non-profit had a breakfast for its employees right its famed Fifth Avenue location while a smaller party featured cookies and hot cocoa, along with a fun book exchange.  Other options include a small gathering at the boss’ house, a bowling alley, an ice skating rink, a private room at a restaurant, a country club, a museum, an art gallery or a karaoke venue.  Sometimes the best location is the office itself.  Choose wisely. 

Get everyone involved in the planning – You can host the party in your office and ask everyone to contribute by making it an inexpensive potluck.  Ask employees to bring in their favorite dishes, making sure all the basics are covered – appetizers, main courses and desserts.  The idea of having everyone contribute a dish allows for employees to share a bit of their culture or their personality with co-workers.  It also makes for a great conversation starter between employees who may not know each other that well.  And most importantly, it offers an opportunity to thank employees without it breaking the bank during a tough economy.  Continue the trend by asking employees each to bring in a holiday ornament to decorate the company Christmas tree (if you choose to have one).  Go one step further by organizing a holiday gift swap, so no one in the office walks away empty handed during the festivities.   

Invite spouses – It may be a little more expensive, but it’s the holidays and it’s nice to meet each other’s significant others during this time of year.  Having spouses and significant others on hand expands the conversation and it also discourages inappropriate behavior among colleagues.  A lot of parties encourage dancing.  This could become a problem if spouses are not invited, inviting unwanted behavior among colleagues who have had too much to drink, instead.  I know, you’re saying, “but that’s the best part.”  However, when you factor in the problems involved in office romances and sexual harassment cases, this behavior could cause a company unwanted headaches.   

Responsible drinking – It’s inevitable that an office holiday party will involve alcohol of some kind.  Companies can limit the potential dangers of serving alcohol by keeping the menu limited to beer and wine.  At the same time, a company could consider drink tickets to limit the number of drinks per attendee.  Keeping the party brief with a set start and end time could limit alcohol consumption and embarrassing behavior.  In addition, parties that include alcohol should also serve plenty of food and offer non-alcoholic alternatives.  For any party that is expected to get out of control (hey, some companies let their employees let loose), some sort of car service should be offered so that no attendee gets into their cars after a night of drinking.   

Dress appropriately – Be careful with attire.  Companies might want to make sure their employees know to dress tastefully.  If it's too casual, people let their guard down and forget that they are with office colleagues and they may cross the line toward inappropriate behavior.  Casual dress can lead to casual behavior.

Make a good impression on your boss - Arrive on time, and leave the party at or before the stated "end time."  You don’t want to be that person that is there at the very end.  Don’t act inappropriately.  Don’t drink too much.  Don’t offend anyone with inadvertent, but still inappropriate conversation (sex, gossip, business talk, politics or religion).  If the boss is having a party at his or her home, make sure you bring a small gift.  You can go one-step further by sending your boss an email thanking him for hosting the party, but that might border on “trying too hard.” 

And above all else, have a joyous holiday season.  You’ve earned it. 

--Jon Minners,


Filed Under: Workplace Issues
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