Workplace Holiday Party Prep Guide

By Stephanie Hammerwold

When I walked into the grocery store a couple days ago and was bombarded by the smell of cinnamon scented pinecones and lavish displays of candy canes and reindeer, I knew that the Christmas season had already arrived despite the fact that no one has even started thawing turkeys for Thanksgiving yet. While you may not be quite ready to put up a Christmas tree and hang some festive lights, if you are saddled with the task of overseeing your company’s holiday party, it is a good time to start thinking of how to plan a party that does not result in drama for HR to sort out the following day.

Creating an Inclusive Party

We all know not everyone celebrates Christmas, and we also know that even those who celebrate Christmas can do so in different ways that vary from completely secular to religious. The main purpose of holiday parties is to focus on friendship and camaraderie and to celebrate the year’s successes. Make these things the focus of your party and avoid any religious references. As for what to call it, I like the generic “Holiday Party." I also worked at one company who called it “Winter Celebration.” In general, be sensitive to how different employees approach the holiday season and plan your party accordingly.

Avoiding Harassment

In my HR career, I have had the challenging experience of trying to resolve bad behavior at the holiday party in the days immediately following the celebration. Employees at holiday parties are not always on their best behavior (especially if alcohol is involved as I will discuss in the next section). It is useful to remind employees that the harassment policy is in effect during the party.

Cheers! Keeping Alcohol from Turning into a Problem

As I mentioned in the last section, alcohol can cause a number of holiday party headaches for HR. I have attended holiday parties with co-workers who normally conducted themselves professionally in the workplace but were falling down drunk and making fools of themselves at the holiday party. It makes for an awkward Monday morning.

If you plan to serve alcohol, consider hosting the party off site. Avoid having an open bar and limit the amount of alcohol through the use of drink tickets. You may also close the bar an hour or two before the end of the party to help reduce the amount of alcohol consumed.

It can be useful to have a professional bartender serving drinks, so they can keep an eye on people who are intoxicated and ensure that they get a cab or ride home. Contact a local cab or rideshare company to provide transportation, and consider paying the bill for transportation from the party to home for employees. It is a benefit that ensures your employees get home safely and avoids the risk of drunk driving by providing an easy solution for employees. Remember that employers may be held liable for accidents caused by drunk employees leaving holiday parties.

Some Final Reminders

Think about the timing of your holiday party as well. Parties that happen after work hours are best and make it easy for people who do not want to go to opt out. Remind employees that attendance at the party is not mandatory. Required attendance usually means you would need to pay people to attend.

If you plan to do any kind of work gift exchange, make it optional. Remember that some people do not celebrate during the holidays for religious or personal reasons, so make it easy for them to not participate in things like gift exchanges and parties.

Finally, do not let policies run amok with your party. Take a few steps to mitigate the risk from things like harassment and alcohol and be inclusive. Other than that, focus your energy on celebrating the season and your employees’ hard work throughout the year.