Here's how to spend just the right amount — and make sure no one does anything stupid.
The holiday office party is ingrained in American culture, and not always in a good way. The stereotypes abound: Drinking too much, saying embarrassing things to bosses, and acting inappropriately with coworkers.
Perhaps that’s why the holiday office party is losing its appeal. For 26 years, an executive recruiting firm called Battalia Winston has polled nearly 150 companies about their official holiday celebrations. The big news this year: For the first time, the number of office parties dipped below 90 percent.
“Only 88 percent of companies polled will have a party this holiday season — down from 96 percent in 2013 and 91 percent in 2012,” the poll revealed.
I fall squarely in that 88 percent. For the two-plus decades I’ve run my own companies (now totaling more than 500 employees), I’ve hosted holiday parties. For years, I’ve held these parties at a local hotel on a Saturday night, but if you’re organizing a holiday party in your office, I can still share some lessons I’ve learned…
1. Spend big on food, not decorations
If you want your employees to enjoy an office party, make sure they’re well fed. If that means skimping on the bows and boughs, fine. No one will remember how many decorations were strewn about. They will remember if they ate well.
2. If you buy alcohol, don’t buy it all
Beer equals holiday cheer, and wine is just as fine. However, too much of a good thing is not only unhealthy, it’s deadly if they drink and drive. One free drink is plenty. If they want another, they can purchase it. If they want a third, they can buy it somewhere else after the party.
3. Don’t make it mandatory
You can’t make people have fun, and it’s also true that a pair of negative employees can ruin an office party for a dozen who are there to have fun. Ask for RSVPs via email more than once, touting the food each time. Those who can’t make it will say so in advance, and no one needs to be uncomfortable at the party.
4. Invite everyone
Besides good food, another perk of a holiday office party is having time to catch up with employees who work in other departments, buildings, or from home. That last category is growing, according to Battalia Winston:
The survey found that a growing number of companies are foregoing parties because their employees work remotely. There was a noticeable increase — from 5 percent to 14 percent — in respondents reporting that a dispersed or remote workforce made holiday parties impossible.
Instead of forgoing the holiday office party, use it as a way to let your telecommuters socialize. While many may enjoy working from home, they may also be lonely and wanting to talk shop face to face.
5. Day or night depends on you
“Of the companies holding parties,” the survey says, “56 percent will celebrate in the evening, while 43 percent will celebrate at lunch.”
That’s a relatively modest difference, but the decision isn’t as clear-cut as you might think. Sure, a lunchtime party will cost less for the party itself. However, if you serve alcohol at lunch — and nearly 40 percent do — factor in the resulting lack of productivity for the rest of the day.
Lunch is the best choice for a workforce that commutes great distances and is family-oriented. After work appeals to a younger workforce that lives closer to the office, especially since they can keep the party going afterward by meeting up elsewhere. As with all good parties, consider the guest list when deciding the particulars.
6. Use the party for more than fun
I’m looking forward to my holiday office party, because it’s when I recognize our employees for all their hard work and hand out pins for years of service. That reinforces what the holiday office party is for: The people who make the office successful.
Howard Dvorkin is a CPA and chairman of Debt.com, an educational resource for those who want to conquer all forms of debt in their lives.