Holiday Party Trends - and Making Yours the Best Ever

Ben Mueller

Two thirds of organizations will have holiday parties this year, a slight dip from the 72 percent last year, according to results from a research poll released last week by the Society for Human Resource Management. Employees approach workplace social gatherings with hesitation, like Santa sniffing a gluten-free cookie. Don’t fret: follow these tips from three seasoned HR professionals to not only light up your party like a Christmas tree, but also make it one for all to rock around.

Don’t Bump Into Employees’ Holiday Plans

Ben Peterson, CEO and co-founder of BambooHR, a global HR software company, said his company party happened in early November to preserve employees’ work-life balance. For most employees, the holidays mean spending time with friends and family, so the earlier in the season you can push the holiday party, the better. "It takes real deliberate thoughtfulness to actually create a culture that inspires people to do their best," Peterson said. And being conscientious of holiday space will do just that.

Fill Your Party Budget With Cheer

The SHRM poll reveals that only 9 percent of companies are cutting back on holiday parties for financial reasons this year. So don’t be the one Scrooge who’s still bootstrapping from the recession. David Barron, a lawyer and legal consultant for HR companies at Cozen O’Connor, points out that after three years of a holiday party lull, organizations began to reinvest in company holiday parties around 2012. "A lot of company’s cut back for a few years," Barron said. "Now that trend has shifted the other way." So go forth and be merry: a plethora of cookie platters and sparkling apple juice awaits.

Skip the Holiday Bonuses

Sending people home with a big holiday goose is officially passê. Three out of four companies do not give non-performance based bonuses to employees at the end of the year. If the funds are there, go ahead and put some towards your party. If not, don’t worry. "Gratitude isn’t always dollars," Peterson said. "Sometimes it’s just simply looking someone in the eye and saying, ‘We really appreciate you and value you here. Thank you for being here.’" Holiday parties are the perfect venues to do just that.

Have It Offsite

Sixty percent of organization will have their parties offsite this year. That can help deter accident liability otherwise faced in the office—as Barron pointed out—but it also creates a great vibe by pulling employees away from their desks. Kristen Cifolelli, a manager at the American Society of Employers, said some of the rowdiest parties in her two decades of HR experience took place in the office. "If you’re offsite, I think it’s easier to contain it," Cifolelli said. It’s hard to shut down when people are singing over the loudspeaker, so it’s best to leave that task to an outside source.

Outsource the Alcohol

Hand in hand with an outside party venue is the added safety of someone else controlling the alcohol. "Have options like cab service or limits on drink tickets," Barron advises. Better yet, leave the eggnog to a different party police. "My suggestion is don’t be the one serving the alcohol. Hire a vendor to do that."

Send a Quick "Expected Behavior" Email

A holiday party is ripe for inappropriate workplace behavior, particularly for millennials, who have always worked in a more socially blended, casual work setting, Cifolelli said. "Publicizing expectations is extremely important," she said. And she’s seen it all—from fist fights in bars to inappropriately singing holiday toys. Reminding employees to use common sense in terms of drinking and gift giving is stuffy but necessary.

Be Genuine

A company’s culture will always be reflected in its holiday party. As Peterson said, if you have a closed up, cold company culture, employees will see right through a warm, happy-go-lucky party. How can a company avoid seeming fake? It goes back to what a holiday party should celebrate. "It should be the people," Peterson said. "Frankly, it should be gratitude for your people from the top down." All of the HR professionals we spoke with mentioned the morale boost a festive gathering brings. So have fun and be safe when showing employees that you care.