Trends That Are Changing the Office Holiday Party

The office holiday party is a staple for many associations. But in the era of #MeToo and with some employees preferring to forgo a traditional celebration, more employers are switching things up to provide a better experience for everyone.

The office holiday party is a common tradition at associations, but it’s evolved. According to experts, there are new trends aimed at providing a better experience for all employees. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Codes of Conduct

The #MeToo era has organizations focused on reducing misconduct at holiday parties through a variety of tactics, said Angela Hall, JD, Ph.D., an associate professor at Michigan State University specializing in human resources and labor relations.

“Organizations are sending out codes of conduct about how you’re supposed to act during the holiday party,” Hall said. “It’s an office-party specific code, and some suggestions would be things like, don’t bring mistletoe, don’t hug people you normally don’t hug, don’t try to kiss people.”

Some codes also focus on etiquette. “They might say, don’t corner someone you don’t usually have contact with and try to pitch your idea,” Hall said. “That might be the only time you see the president, but you don’t want 100 people going up to the president and trying to push an idea or ask for a raise. You might even say, ‘No shop talk during the holiday party; this is a time for you to relax.’”

In addition to conduct codes, organizations have been restructuring parties in small, but noteworthy ways. “Instead of having it in the evening after work or on the weekend, they’ll have it during the day and they won’t serve alcohol,” Hall said. “Employers have been encouraging employees to bring their significant others or other members of their family because that can curb some inappropriate types of behavior.”

Hall said parties go smoother if they have a beginning and end time. She also suggested organizations that serve alcohol provide a limited amount free (give two tickets redeemable for two alcoholic beverages) and encourage employees to use ride services to get home. “An employer will have some liability if they serve alcohol,” she said.


Because diversity and inclusion is top of mind at most organizations, those principles are also filtering into holiday parties. “It’s more than just Christmas and Hanukkah,” Hall said. “There’s Diwali, which happened in the fall. We’ve got Kwanzaa. There’s Bodhi Day—that is a Buddhist holiday.”

Some employers are doing simple things to be inclusive, like posting a display that discusses some of the holidays happening during this season. Also, some encourage potlucks where people get to bring food representative of their holiday and culture. “Most people bond over food, and it’s a social experience for them,” Hall said.

Party Poopers

Even though some organizations are trying to make their parties thrive, others are going in the opposite direction. “One trend we are seeing is giving employees the option of whether they want to have a holiday party,” Hall said. “Some employers have been getting feedback from employees that they’d rather have a couple of hours off or gift cards.”

And employers have been listening. “The employers are saying, ‘OK,’” Hall said. “Employees don’t seem to object. Employees want to be recognized; they want to see there is some effort made toward them.”

Holiday benefits research from Reward Gateway uncovered similar findings, noting that many employees prefer to forego the holiday party in favor of other rewards.

“People are looking at things that will have more of an impact on their lives,” said Robert Hicks, Group HR director at Reward Gateway. “They are really looking for recognition, which is going to be empowering for them. That is the thank you, but also the financial-recognition element. They are looking for understanding and support from their employers.”

Hall noted that in a tight economy like we have now, the important thing is that employees feel appreciated, not the methodology. “Employers are trying to make employees feel valued,” she said. “They don’t want them to leave. So, they’re doing some type of expression of appreciation—whether it be a holiday party or a gift card or an end-of-year bonus.”

Have you made any changes to your office holiday party this year—perhaps even foregoing one in lieu of something else? Tell us in the comments.

(SetsukoN/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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