With family obligations, packed calendars and crunch time at the office, the end-of-the-year can feel more exhausting than festive. But skipping the office holiday party altogether isn’t a realistic answer for most companies (unless “lower morale” is on your to-do list).
However, planning your party on premises can help keep costs and time commitment manageable while avoiding Scrooge-syndrome. Thinking of kicking back on site this December? Here are four ways to keep the in-office party fun.
Survey your team in advance. “If every year you are having half the staff not showing up to your office party, you are doing something wrong,” cautions etiquette expert Thomas P. Farley (a.k.a. Mister Manners). If that’s been the case in the past, you need to survey the staff well in advance of the season (i.e., not on December 10), and ask them what they want, and don’t, from a holiday party. Getting your team involved in the planning to the best way to assure participation.
Keep money talk consistent. If you’ve had a recent salary or hiring freeze or, worse, lay-offs, you need to walk a fine line. You want to spend enough on the party to boost spirits, but not so much that employees feel like you’re blowing their raises on Champagne and appetizers. Nina B. Ries, principal of Ries Law Group in Santa Monica Calif., advises her clients to hold holiday lunches (rather than evening fetes) at the workplace, because of the significant savings compared to hosting a formal holiday party.
Carefully consider what’s at the bar. Etiquette experts and attorneys alike agree that the No. 1 problem at the office party comes from alcohol (leading to posting inappropriate pictures on Facebook or letting an HR secret slip). If you do serve it, you have to worry about such indiscretions, as well as liability, over-serving, driving, and, of course, cost. Alcohol is likely to be less missed at a day-time event in the office, particularly if your staff plans to return to work afterwards. If you do spring for booze, make sure the bartenders know how to ensure that party-goers moderate and offer cab service, shuttles or other ways for folks to get home safely.
Make more small talk, fewer speeches. As the chief cook/bottlewasher/CEO/entrepreneur-in-charge you’ll want to make a few remarks. But keep the emphasis on “few,” urges Farley. The purpose of an office party is to thank your staff and get to know them in a different setting (even if that setting is the lunchroom rather than at their desks). You do this with one-on-one and small group interaction, not by making a speech at the front of the room.
Margaret Littman is a journalist who covers small businesses, travel and all manner of other topics, with a sweet spot for anything relating to stand-up paddling or Music City. She is the author of the Nashville Essential Guide iPhone and Android app and many travel guidebooks. Her work has appeared in many national magazines, and she is the editor of Entrepreneur magazine’s Start It Up section.