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How to Handle the Office Party Like a Boss

With more and more workers headed back to the office in person, company gatherings are returning too. Here's how to avoid the monotony and do them right.

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In these tumultuous times, it’s important more than ever to develop a company culture where people can feel both joyful and productive in person. You typically want to team members to feel comfortable relaxing around both bosses and coworkers. Office parties are undeniably still a part of this equation. 

I’ve talked in this column about how to do remote birthday parties creatively, but these days those gatherings aren’t always enjoyable or feasible for every team member. Because it might have been a while since you’ve been back at the office consistently, you probably haven’t planned an office party recently. You might be starting to remember that although these events should be a fun and easy break, they can be stressful to plan and to attend. 

Related: 3 Ways to Set Up Personal and Business Success During Immense Change

There are many questions to answer both logistically and professionally for employers. 

  • How important is the office birthday party for employee well-being? 

  • How much time and money should you spend? 

  • What is the balance between personal bonding experiences and ?

  • Is the whole company invited or just those who work closely with a guest of honor? 

For the person in charge, here are some ways to handle office parties like a boss. 

Related: Nervous About Meeting Employees in Person for the First Time? Try These 5 Tips

Give people your time and energy

One of the most important functions of office parties whether they be for birthdays, job anniversaries or any special occasion — is that they are celebrations of an individual, as opposed to group-oriented celebrations such as holiday parties. 

Studies show that employees quit their jobs for a host of reasons, but lack of work-life balance, lack of recognition, and lack of flexibility and fun at work all play big parts. Many people these days say appreciation is more valuable to them than promotions or even pay raises. So, it’s important to make sure everybody in your company feels valued both as workers and as human beings.

Parties let you honor an individual while connecting with the group. They help employees get to know you on a personal level too. Both throwing the party and engaging with coworkers there allow you to humanize yourself in the eyes of your team members and to find commonalities outside of work you might not have noticed otherwise. Office parties can be so much more than a slice of cake in the break room. Go out to brunch with the team. Explore a group painting class. Try an escape room exercise. Your party can double as a team-building game. 

Related: 4 Key Steps to Motivate Employees to Finish Work Projects

Don’t make attendance mandatory, but encourage a culture of celebration 

Although it might seem only fair to ask that everybody attend every birthday party, making office parties mandatory turns them into an obligation rather than a celebration. There are many reasons that somebody might not want to attend an office birthday celebration, from lactose intolerance to general social anxiety. Create a culture that encourages camaraderie and celebration of every individual, so that people will want to attend and do so by their own volition. 

Go beyond birthday parties. Dole out praise consistently for a wide range of achievements in your office, both personal and professional. Frequent encouragement can increase productivity. Longer lunch tables, which give team members a chance to sit and get to know more people, can boost productivity too. So although office birthdays are an effective way to bring excitement and fun to your company, the culture of celebrating the individual should be furthered every single day, in lots of little ways. 

Related: How to Become a Better Leader Through a Crisis

Consider individual wants and needs

It might be easier to throw the same kind of celebration for everybody. It might even feel like the fair thing to do. However, treating every party in exactly the same way risks canceling out the feeling that you are celebrating the individual personally. It can also create a monotony that will make employees less enthusiastic about attending each and every one. 

To be fair, you should maintain the same budget for every party. Instead consider varying the menu (some people love cake, while others might prefer a vegetable tray), size of celebration, and time of day. Some people might want the whole office there, and others might want to keep it small with just their team. Some might want to celebrate at lunchtime, while others might want to wait until the end of the day so as not to interrupt the flow of their workday. 

Talking to an individual about their preferences and planning with them in mind will likely make them feel more valued and seen. You’ll also be sure to throw a party that the guest of honor will enjoy. 

Having fun is a good goal 

The most important thing to remember when throwing office parties is that they are supposed to make people feel good. If executed properly, they should increase morale (and subsequently productivity), improve employer/employee relationships, and simply allow people to let loose and enjoy time spent at work. Although having fun can mean different things to different people, the desire to enjoy life and work is universal. When considering the office party, keep in mind that the goal is to create a good time for everybody.

Related: How to Be More Confident
John Boitnott

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Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.