6 Tips to Throwing a Holiday Office Party Your Employees Will Actually Enjoy

The holidays are coming— and with them comes the ever-expected, obligatory holiday office party. If the thought of planning or attending your holiday office party leaves you feeling less than enthused, you’re not alone.  According to one 2015 report, 54% of employees whose workplaces host office parties do not actually look forward to them! There’s some speculation about why the majority of workers are coming up short in the holiday cheer department, including (but not limited to):

  • They’re not having fun: A 2013 report on holiday office parties revealed that 70% of office parties forbade people from dancing (a la “Footloose”)— up 32% from the prior year— and 44% of parties banned booze— up 21% from the prior year.
  • They’re given lackluster food: In the article This is Why Your Company Holiday Party Sucks, one employee of a well-to-do company divulged, “…Our office party— which, by the way, is mandatory— is a conference-room table covered with platters of Costco veggies and dip and a few screw-top bottles of wine. It’s embarrassing for everyone.”
  • They’re just not feeling the love: David Adler, the CEO of BizBash, shared that “Employees want the opportunity to wind down with their co-workers and feel appreciated… People want a party.” But surprisingly, 36% of people surveyed said their employer “didn’t do anything nice” during the holiday period— no parties, no presents, no bonuses.

Interestingly (and perhaps confusingly), even though many workers do not like their holiday office parties, they still want them to happen, with 51% of employees claiming they’d be disappointed if the annual event was canceled. Maybe they’re holding out hope that this year will finally be better than last year. Maybe they’re taking bets on how much worse this year’s bash will be. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that most employees have a love-hate relationship with holiday office parties.

So… what can you, the employer and lucky planner of this year’s annual shindig, do to throw an office party your employees will actually enjoy this holiday season?  Here are 6 tips to point your planning in the right direction!

1. Choose a non-traditional theme.

 If you’re a fan of the beloved comedy “The Office,” you will have seen its characters cycle through several seasons of office Christmases, each bearing its own unique theme.  There was a Moroccan Christmas, a Classy Christmas, and a rather aggressive Secret Santa Party, just to name a few. While each fictional party did leave a lot to be desired, the quirky themes were actually pretty on point! Giving your office party a non-traditional theme leaves room for the unexpected.  Instead of overused holiday party reruns, like “Ugly Sweater Party” or “The 12 Days of Christmas,” opt for something fresher. Think outside the box to create unusual party themes like “Masquerade Ball” (dress up in costumes for Christmas!), “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (fill your menu with sweet treats like chocolate fountains, cotton candy machines, and more!), or “Absurd Ornaments” (where everyone brings an outrageous ornament to decorate the office). A non-traditional theme will make employees wonder what’s in store for them at this year’s celebration, and maybe, just maybe, look forward to the change of pace!

2. Offer a diverse menu.

At many (if not most) social events, people come for the food!  While many holiday party staples are probably expected on the menu— like homemade cookies or cheese and cracker platters— variety and quantity will be both appreciated in equal measure.  To serve up dishes that your employees will enjoy, let your theme and your budget be your guides.  Even on a small budget, you can get creative: skip veggies trays in favor of Asian-inspired hors d’oeuvres; replace store-bought cookies with pie and ice cream; offer Sno-Cones as part of a “July in December” party! If all else fails, you can fall back on the classic potluck option— just be sure employees are voluntarily, not mandatorily, bringing in dishes, and then supplement them with a few catered selections.

3. Consider serving some spirits.

With cameras and quick access to social media everywhere these days, it is understandable why some offices are scaling back on the booze at office parties; no one wants drunken office party antics splashed across Facebook for all to see!  However, a small selection of alcoholic beverages is also not out of line for an end-of-year celebratory event. Adult drinks will help loosen up stressed out workers, and also encourage a more relaxed, casual atmosphere that doesn’t smack of work, deadlines, and customer service. Instead of an open bar, try a more reserved approach to alcohol; consider offering one choice of drink, served in a fun way. Renting a margarita machine is a great example of how to serve up festive spirits without overflowing your party with alcohol.

4. Rearrange your office space.

 Sometimes no matter how many halls you deck with twinkling lights and paper snowflakes, an office is still an office.  To make a distinction between work time and party time, give your office space a quick rearrangement to create a more party-worthy atmosphere.  Depending on your office layout, you could clear desks and office equipment from the center of a room to create a large party area. Set up tables and chairs  around the space to encourage interaction and showcase the entertainment. Or, set up different party stations in different rooms, so employees can mill throughout, curious to see what the next room offers (Food? Karaoke? A tower of presents? Who knows!) If rearranging your entire office for one afternoon sounds like too much work, enlist the help of other department heads to get the job done. Employees might appreciate seeing their higher-ups doing some “grunt work”!

5. Plan for a few types of entertainment.

Not every employee is a social butterfly, while others may have been looking forward to socializing at this festive occasion all year. To plan entertainment for all personality types, choose to have 1 – 3 fun activities that adults would enjoy for a few hours. One “larger” activity and one or two smaller activities are a good guideline for planning your entertainment. Consider hosting a gaming tournament that teams of employees can join (don’t forget a prize or trophy for the winners!). Rentable equipment like giant indoor games makes for easy tournament set-up, teardown, and motility around the office. Smaller, sideline activities like a photo booth and props or cookie-decorating— who doesn’t love an activity they can eat?— complement the main event by letting employees make memories with any or all of the activities that best suit their personalities.

6. Remember to show your appreciation.

A 2014 study of Northeast Ohio companies found that businesses in the area spent an average of $75 per employee for their annual party. However, another survey found that spending only $25 per person for a holiday party was up 35% from the previous year. The point being, it doesn’t necessarily matter if your party is large or small, or if you blow out your budget on your yearend event. Your holiday party, at its core, should be planned as a show of appreciation to all the employees who have worked hard for you year after year. Your party should demonstrate pride in your employees and recognition of their accomplishments. Whether you plan a super-fancy affair with champagne and dancing, play Santa and hand out presents to each worker, or take the time to personally thank every employee at your party, the true measure of your holiday party’s success will be in how appreciated each one feels by your party-planning efforts.

A holiday office party doesn’t have to be over-the-top, outrageous, or expensive.  With some creative thinking and unique ideas like the ones shared above, your office party can have employees putting aside the “bah-humbug” attitude and getting into holiday spirit!

If you want to beat the statistics this year and throw a holiday party your whole office will look forward to, give us a call to get planning!

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