The Office Holiday Party—Important End-of-Year Ritual or Tired Tradition?

If you play a role in shaping your company’s office culture, then you may already be thinking about planning your office holiday party.

And depending on your office culture, this may be something you’re 100% excited about or 100% dreading. If employees tend to get along well and enjoy spending time together outside of work, the holiday party is just another excuse to socialize (with all the benefits attached: teambuilding, raised morale, and healthy end-of-year reflection). On the other hand, if employees tend to keep a bit of distance between “work” and “life,” the office party may seem like an outdated tradition from a bygone era (with all the Mad Men-style awkward interactions, morning after regrets, and even potential lawsuits).

It’s important that your end-of-year traditions reflect the best parts of your office culture, so if that means trading in your annual adults-only party for a family-friendly shindig, inviting clients and partners to join the festivities, or even just opting out of the party scene altogether and offering paid-time off instead, do what’s best for your company.

Regardless of what you decide to do, we’ve got some advice for how to celebrate the end of another year.

  • If you’re worried about attendance, throw your party during work hours. Employees will appreciate the disruption to their normal routine (especially if the disruption includes cookies). Another strategy for attracting guests is to offer door prizes. Give everyone a ticket when they arrive, and later in the evening draw winners for prizes such as a half day off, a better parking spot for a week, or an Amazon gift certificate.
  • Consider replacing the party with an opt-in group social activity such as a cooking class, a community service activity, bowling, or a museum night. The challenge is finding something that everyone will enjoy, but on the other hand, a shared activity can serve as a social lubricant for shy guests. Don’t know what to pick? Try a surprise!
  • Skip the catering, and do an “Iron Chef”-style cooking competition instead. Let employees vote on an ingredient in advance (good holiday-friendly ingredients include mint, citrus, maple, or cinnamon), and show off their culinary skills by bringing a homemade dish featuring the ingredient. Hand out score cards and let guests vote for their favorite dishes. This combines the cost-saving benefits of a potluck with the teambuilding aspects of healthy competition. It also provides an avenue for employees to shine in an area they don’t typically get to showcase.
  • Have a theme. Granted, this won’t suit every office, and some people don’t love to dress up in costumes, but having a different theme each year ensures that each holiday party is distinct and memorable, which is one of the keys to building excitement for the next one.
  • Invite families. There’s no simpler way to show how much you care about your employees than to invite the people closest to them to join the party. If you do this, be sure to have kid-friendly activities like crafts, face-painting, or a piñata; as well as kid-friendly food and drink options (how about a hot chocolate bar featuring peppermint sticks, cinnamon, marshmallows, salted caramel, and whipped cream!?)
  • Invite clients, customers, and other partners. This helps to build a broader community, forges connections between employees and the people they serve, and can add a much needed spark to a tired holiday party dynamic. If you do this, don’t miss out on the branding opportunities—create a photo booth with branded costumes and props and let your guests broadcast their loyalty (and how much fun they’re having) across social media platforms.
  • Incorporate surprise. You knew we were going to mention this, didn’t you? The surprise might be in the form of table prizes (there’s a winning ticket under one chair at each table), an unusual centerpiece or dish (miracle fruit, anyone?), a special guest appearance (the CEO dressed as Santa Claus, perhaps?), or handing out playful awards (e.g. “Most Creative Use of Post-It Notes”).

What are your office holiday plans?

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