‘Tis the Season for Office Holiday Parties, So Do Them Right

As many organizations prepare to close the books on 2013, one of the last events on their calendars is likely the office holiday party. One HR professional offers some tips for a successful and safe end-of-the-year bash.

It’s been a long year, filled with ups and downs, wins and losses. As 2013 comes to a close, many employers will send it off with an office holiday celebration.

If you can afford it, offer employees money for cab rides home, or, if your event is at a hotel, put them up for the night. The last thing you want is something tragic happening.

Two-thirds of organizations plan to hold a holiday or end-of-the-year event for their staff this year, roughly the same number as in the past two years, according to an annual survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). For employers with fewer than 500 employees, that number jumps to about 75 percent.

Of the organizations that will hold a holiday party, 84 percent said they budget for the event, and 60 percent will hold it offsite. The 2012 survey found that 61 percent of employers planned to serve alcohol.

The office holiday party can pose some tricky situations for human resources departments, said Lisa Orndorff, manager of employee relations and engagement at SHRM, but overall they offer a great way to build employee morale. She cited some best practices for providing employees with a friendly and safe environment:

Be mindful of cultural differences. The modern workplace is a melting pot of different cultures, and employers need to keep those differences in mind when planning an end-of-the-year event, said Orndorff. “There are some religious denominations that practice their Sabbath on Friday or Saturday, so those days might not work for them, and then there are others that don’t recognize Christmas at all,” she said. “You may not be able to accommodate all of [your employees’] varied needs and wishes, but at least make an effort to acknowledge them.” Also consider dietary restriction in planning food and beverages.

Watch your budget. “Do what you can with what you have,” Orndorff said. “If your employees like doing stuff onsite, do something onsite—bring a caterer in. If they like going offsite, if your budget allows it, see if you can do that.” In the survey, 4 percent of employers reported bringing their event onsite this year to save costs.

Monitor alcohol consumption. Aside from reminding employees about proper behavior at these events, Orndorff suggested talking with the bartender to help keep an eye on people, and possibly having at least one sober employee on patrol. “If you can afford it, offer employees money for cab rides home, or, if your event is at a hotel, put them up for the night. The last thing you want is something tragic happening.”

There are alternatives to the traditional end-of-the-year shindig as well, Orndorff said. “Some companies just have their party in January when it’s not as crazy. For membership associations, if they have a December 31 end date for memberships, they are pushing hard to get the renewals and the retention. They may just not have the time” for a December event, she noted.

Another option might be sponsoring a day of community service, or even giving employees an afternoon off to get some shopping done.

“It’s about knowing what your employees like,” said Orndorff. “If they don’t like parties, if it’s not going to be a fun and appreciated activity, ask them what they would like.”

Does your association celebrate at the end of the year? Have any other office party tips? Share them in the comments.



Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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