Office Holiday Parties: More Than Just Song and Dance

December 13, 2017 in ,
By Emily Winick

With Thanksgiving behind us, Black Friday sales over (mostly), and holiday jingles taking over the airwaves, we are smack dab in the middle of holiday season! One signature feature of this time of year is the corporate holiday party.

At FMP, we kick off the season with our annual holiday party. With this year’s theme being “European Holiday Market”, we hosted the event at Eastern Market in Washington, DC and offered a catered spread featuring different market foods and beverages for all to enjoy (check out our pictures!). As we come off the heels of our celebration, we got to thinking about what our holiday party means to us, especially as these events have become top of mind for many HR professionals and business leaders. Company-sponsored holiday parties have received a lot of attention recently, in large part due to the current national conversation about workplace misconduct. Because of a very real need to address this issue, some companies consider the risk of bad employee behavior at holiday parties too high and are doing away with the events altogether. While this certainly may be the right answer for some companies, there are several upsides to keeping your office holiday party on the calendar. Here are a few of the reasons why office parties are beneficial, as well as some simple tips to mitigate common risks that accompany these festive soirees:

#1: Employee Appreciation

Showing appreciation for employees may be the most commonly cited purpose for hosting corporate holiday parties, and for good reason. Most of these events – or the fun ones, at least! – come with good food, drinks, music, and entertainment, all of which shows an investment of the company’s resources for the express purpose of employees having a good time. Other forms of employee appreciation can be built into the mix, such as public recognition of individual or collective accomplishments, or giving achievement awards or gifts. No matter the method a company chooses to demonstrate appreciation for its people, feeling valued at work has a significant impact on the employee experience and resulting performance.

#2: Better Interpersonal Connections

One of the main indicators for how well employees perform at work is their perceived level of social connection and support in the workplace[1]; when done well, corporate holiday parties give employees the opportunity to improve interpersonal connections with their colleagues. When all employees are invited, these events are venues for employees to meet and socialize with people they may not normally see or work with. For companies that have a component of their workforce working remotely or spread across multiple office locations, employees can get some face time with people they’ve only ever talked to over the phone or through email. In some cases, it may be the only time new or junior employees get to have informal, one-on-one conversations with senior leaders. And, when employees are encouraged to bring plus-ones, people can make meaningful personal connections by meeting each other’s significant others, friends, or family.

On the more collective level, holiday parties can build an organization’s sense of community, or the feeling of employees belonging to a larger group with important things in common. This effect can be especially prominent when the party involves a collective cause that employees care about or are committed to, like donating to a charity or participating in a community-giving activity. Holiday parties that reflect a company’s values and culture – whether that means they are formal, casual, service-oriented, or otherwise – are effective builders of workplace community. It is this sense of community that reinforces employees’ commitment to each other, the company, and its mission1.

#3: Sending a Reassuring Message

Job security is top of mind for many people, and family obligations during the holiday season can add to everyone’s stress levels. While office holiday parties don’t mean that everything is smooth sailing, they can give employees reassurance by signaling that the company is thriving. With an upbeat and celebratory tone, holiday parties can be an effective means for celebrating the year’s successes and ushering the company into the new year on a positive note.

In sum, corporate holiday parties are more than just a company get-together. It may be tempting to target the annual holiday party when looking to make budget cuts, but when they are thoughtfully planned, holiday parties let employees have fun together, show the company’s dedication to its people, and in turn, elicits their commitment.

If you still think having a party presents too many risks, here are some quick tips to minimize the potential of unwanted behavior:

  • To reduce the likelihood that the celebration will lead to late-night party antics, hold the holiday party during the workday by hosting a potluck lunch, cookie exchange, or catered spread. When hosting a party in your office, be clear about the workplace policy on alcohol consumption.
  • Consider inviting significant others and families; if families are invited, make the party kid-friendly with a variety of activities that provide the opportunity to mingle and share holiday cheer for all ages.
  • Remind your company’s managers and leaders about policies on appropriate workplace conduct and empower them to help identify risky behavior, of any kind, before it turns into a problem. You can also include a refresher on your company’s policies to the entire workforce in the weeks leading up to the event.
  • Evaluate the location of the party to ensure it doesn’t encourage high-risk behavior. If, for example, you’ve previously held the party at a bar with limited food options, consider a venue that offers appetizers or other food, or consider springing for catering, so that guests aren’t consuming alcohol on empty stomachs. Or, instead of offering an open bar for the entire evening, you can limit the amount of time the company is providing the drinks, switch to a cash-bar after one round, or allot a fixed number of tickets to each adult of drinking age that they can exchange for alcoholic drinks.
  • For catered events, hire a professional bartender and provide clear direction regarding serving inebriated guests, underage drinkers, and prohibited activities (i.e., ‘doing shots’). Many restaurant and bar venues have their own policies and personnel in place to help limit risky behavior and can offer helpful suggestions.
  • As always, if you’re planning to serve alcoholic beverages, be sure to include a variety of non-alcoholic options and consider offering a company-sponsored ride service for anyone who may have over-indulged.

Stay safe, and enjoy the party!

[1] Bedarkar, M., & Pandita, D. (2014). A study on the drivers of employee engagement impacting employee performance. Social and Behavioral Sciences, 133, 106-115.

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