It’s understandable to question the relevance of holiday parties in the 2015 workplace after hearing the holiday party horror stories that have led to dismissals, legal trouble, or worse. With many companies taking more steps to incorporate casual gatherings, lunches, and happy hours year-round, holding a big company party during the busiest time of year might even seem counterintuitive. However, with employee engagement at its lowest point since 2007, it might be more important than ever for your business to not only host a holiday party, but to use it as an opportunity to show employee appreciation and help team members to better get to know the company and each other. It’s a wonderful way to start out the new year on a positive note.
The Epitome of Company Culture
Your company’s culture is one of its biggest differentiators and the holiday party is the perfect time to put your money where your “cultural” mouth is. Even employees who tend to skip out on other social events are likely to attend the holiday party, so it’s your best opportunity outside of the office to spotlight company priorities. For example, if you want to emphasize the importance of individual efforts, consider ways to recognize employee achievements at the party. Official employee “awards” given to employees who showed particularly amazing performances in the past year is one way to do it, but don’t stop there. For example, set up a table of blank thank-you cards and encourage employees to address one to the person who they feel has made an impact on the company’s success. If you want to keep the original spirit of the company top-of-mind despite recent growth, consider establishing holiday party traditions. To highlight the idea of giving back to the community, incorporate a charity donation, such as a clothing drive.
Also, consider what types of word-of-mouth your holiday party might generate about your business. If your employees have a great time, they’re not only more likely to feel satisfied with their job, but also more likely to spread that positivity to others, such as potential new hires or even the press.
Holiday Parties Mix More Than Cocktails
No matter the specifics of your company culture, the opportunity for team members to meet and mingle with people they don’t normally get to talk to is one of the biggest benefits of the holiday party. It’s typical for most employees to work with the same group of people in their department for the majority of their workdays, so the party can help to expand their perspective on the business as a whole. If you have multiple office locations, consider syncing the timing of the parties and setting up Skype on a video screen so that attendees can interact with each other during the celebration.
If employees have the choice to bring a significant other, they have the opportunity to let their team members get to know more about them personally, which helps everyone to feel more connected. Plus, their partners will finally be able to put a face to the names of the co-workers their partner talks about at home.
Yes, there is likely to be some awkward conversations among employees who don’t know each other, especially at first, but strategic party planning on your end can help to minimize those moments.
Holiday Party Planning DOs and DONTs
In order to engage your team members, your party planning needs to extend beyond hiring vendors and a DJ. Although most people might shudder when they hear the word “icebreaker,” they would probably admit that having some type of organized activity goes a long way in facilitating conversation and easing social anxiety. Having a few things for folks to do will help to keep the entertainment from being focused solely on eating food (which might prompt people to leave once they’re full) or the bar.
- DON’T ask everyone to take a seat and then go one-by-one through the room until everyone has introduced themselves. This is a party mood killer better suited for orientations or company meetings.
- DO provide low-key conversation starters that allow folks to easily chat each other up. For example, incorporate trivia questions or other games into the decor or table settings. Add a prize for whoever gets the most questions correct to motivate engagement.
- DON’T encourage people to talk about work.
- DO provide comfortable, open seating areas where folks can easily rest, eat, and talk, especially at the beginning of the party. Make sure these areas are located near the main action so no one feels anti-social for taking a seat.
- DON’T go overboard and treat the party like a board meeting with an itinerary.
- DO set up a photobooth with unique props that gesture towards company “inside” jokes. Let people take as many photos with as many people as they want; this will let outgoing employees invite more reserved people to take photos with them, which will get more people engaged.
- DON’T plan activities that encourage people to get as drunk as possible. Maybe everyone loves karaoke, but suggesting that folks go to a karaoke bar after the party is a better idea than hosting karaoke at the party itself.
- DO arrange for transportation for employees to get home safely, or make it easy for folks to call an Uber or cab so that they can choose to enjoy a cocktail or two, worry-free.
- DO keep the variety of tastes, dietary restrictions, and comfort levels of all of your employees in mind. Remember: not everyone drinks alcohol or eats meat or has kids. Always provide entertainment and dietary alternatives so that everyone feels included.
- Most importantly, DO plan your party to fit your business and your employees.! Need to cut down on costs? Consider a holiday luncheon or brunch. Do most of your employees have children? Consider having the party in a venue that provides activities for kids. Work in retail or another industry that is at its busiest in December? Have the party in January. Employees are more likely to enjoy themselves at an event that fits with their lifestyle, so don’t be afraid to get creative!