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7 Office Holiday Party Tips to Stay off the HR Naughty List

Holiday parties are incredibly common events in the workplace, with nearly 80% of employers hosting them, according to a survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

But should they be so popular?

Employees, for their part, are lukewarm on them. One survey found that only 36% of employees would describe company holiday parties as fun, and 35% actually rate them negatively. Worse, holiday parties create a danger zone of inappropriate and potentially legally actionable behavior. According to research from party planning platform Evite, “40% of employees will witness some piece of office drama unfold, and 37% will see some sort of intra-office hookup.”

“Anything can happen in an office holiday party,” says Julian Clark, Evite’s in-house party specialist.

For that reason, businesses need to ensure that the event does not subject anyone to unwanted or inappropriate interactions. Here are a few steps employers can take to keep their parties employee (and lawyer) friendly.

1. Understand why you’re offering the party

What are the underlying goals of hosting the event? Employers might want to reward employees for a productive year, emphasize teambuilding and company cohesion, give employees a break from holiday stress, and so on. Consider if there are ways of achieving those goals without an event that risks inappropriate behavior.

Determine the Type of Holiday Party

When planning an office holiday party, it's crucial to choose the right kind of party that matches your goals. The type of party can impact the atmosphere and dynamics of the event. Here are various types of holiday parties to consider:

  • At-Work Party

Having the office party during regular work hours within the office allows everyone to participate without disrupting personal schedules. It can include arranging food and activities, such as gift exchanges or music, to get everyone in a festive mood. For many employers, this choice might be the most practical and feasible.

  • After-Hours Party

Conducting the party after regular work hours provides a more relaxed setting outside the office environment. It gives employees a chance to unwind, socialize, and enjoy the celebration without the constraints of work-related responsibilities.

  • Off-Site Group Event

Organizing a team-building activity or event at an off-site location promotes team bonding and camaraderie among employees. Some off-site group activities can include escape rooms, happy hour, wine tasting, outdoor events, or volunteer work. can improve team dynamics in a different setting.

  • Virtual Party

Consider hosting a virtual celebration to allow remote or geographically dispersed team members to join the festivities. This can include online games, virtual gift exchanges, or live-streamed activities.

2. Be mindful of different beliefs and holidays

During the holiday season, it's important to respect the diverse beliefs and traditions celebrated by your team. Recognizing this diversity can help create an inclusive atmosphere at the company party. Rather than focusing on a single holiday, consider keeping the corporate event a general holiday celebration.

When planning the party, think about activities that represent different traditions or choose a party theme that suits everyone. Also, consider everyone's food preferences to make sure everyone can enjoy the party.

3. Rethink the timing of the holiday party

The timing of your office holiday party plays a significant role in shaping the event's atmosphere and employee conduct. Instead of letting the party run late into the night, which could cause problems, there are alternative options to think about it.

Closing the holiday party early can be a strategic move. By ending at a reasonable hour, it reduces the chances of employees overindulging in alcohol and making regretful decisions. This approach encourages moderation and responsible behavior while still allowing everyone to enjoy the party.

Hosting the party during regular work hours reduces the concerns about late-night travel or disruptions to personal schedules. This approach can avoid alcohol consumption as it occurs within the workday context.

Moreover, making the party optional can be beneficial. Some employees might prefer not to attend events or gatherings that involve alcohol. On the other hand some employees may have personal or family commitments. By allowing optional participation, you promote a culture of inclusivity and respect for individuals.

4. Offer a variety of food & drink options

It's important to have a variety of food and drinks at the holiday party. This way you can cater to different tastes and dietary needs, making everyone feel included and satisfied.

Consider offering a mix of appetizers, main courses, and desserts to accommodate various needs. Ensure everyone can enjoy the options by offering vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Have both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, so everyone can join in on the celebration.

Additionally, label food with allergen information to help people decide what's safe for them to eat. This shows consideration for everyone's dietary needs and makes the party welcoming for all.

5. Limit the availability of alcohol and/or provide rides home

When serving alcohol, it's crucial to do so responsibly. Consider using a drink ticket system can help control how much employees drink. This system limits each person to a set number of drinks. This approach encourages moderation and helps create a safer environment for everyone in attendance.

Additionally, ensuring the safety of employees is paramount. Offering free or discounted rides home through taxi or ridesharing services for those who might be too intoxicated is a proactive step. This shows commitment to employee well-being and prevents risks from impaired driving.

6. Remind employees in advance what is appropriate behavior

Office parties can raise concerns for employers regarding their liability for employees' actions. To address this, you have to communicate clear guidelines to all employees before the event. Remind them about expected behavior and the consequences of inappropriate conduct.

Clear guidelines help establish boundaries for everyone, ensuring a more enjoyable party. By setting ground rules, employers show their commitment to maintaining a professional and respectful environment.

7. Incorporate activities into the party

Adding engaging activities to the office holiday party can greatly impact everyone's experience. While it's important to avoid party games that might create discomfort. There are plenty of other enjoyable options that can get employees in the holiday spirit.

One widely popular activity is the "white elephant" gift exchange. It involves employees bringing wrapped, low-cost gifts to exchange with other employees. This approach can encourage interaction among employees, creating a cheerful atmosphere without trips to the bar.

One activity that is typically done before the party is decorating the office. Consider using wrapping paper to wrap desk, walls and common areas. You can also follow a theme for the office like "winter wonderland" where snowflakes, lights and ornaments transform the office. This activity brings holiday cheer to the office and encourages teamwork among employees.

Moreover, consider team-building exercises or simple games like trivia or a scavenger hunt. Team activities such as making gingerbread houses can also be delightful and promote team building.

Key Takeaways

Planning a office holiday party involves finding a balance between celebrating the holiday and providing a safe inclusive party. Understanding the event's purpose and picking the right type of party can create an enjoyable and respectful time for everyone.

Try to keep holiday celebrations generic to respect diverse beliefs and religions. To ensure everyone is included, provide a variety of food and drink options. Additionally, remind employees what is expected in their behavior for a respectful office gathering.

Consider fun activities, such as a gift exchange or team building games. This can add to the enjoyment and unity of the celebration. By considering these thoughtful steps, employers can avoid potential issues, making the office holiday party a joyful occasion for all.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about our ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.