Company parties are a great way to show appreciation for your employees, and to give them an opportunity to de-stress and enjoy an occasional break from work. At Underground Elephant, social activities are an important part of our culture, and we embrace any opportunity to host a company event.Although we find various occasions to celebrate throughout the year, the most anticipated annual event for employees is typically the year-end office holiday party. It’s an opportunity for staff at all levels of the organization to mix, mingle, and commemorate a year’s worth of hard work. Each year, Underground Elephant finds a new way to celebrate at the annual holiday party, from inviting employees aboard a yacht for a private cruise around the San Diego bay, to creating a west-coast winter wonderland (complete with real snow). Other holiday events have included hiring elves and a Christmas donkey to surprise employees and creating a real forest out of Christmas trees in a warehouse.
No matter the setting, the holiday party is almost always guaranteed to be a memorable event. This tradition has long been revered in popular culture, appearing in shows such as The Office, Arrested Development, and the new movie Office Christmas Party. Most of these examples highlight the many potential pitfalls of hosting a holiday party, from fire mishaps to awkward interactions between coworkers. On the other hand, office parties that are too heavily regulated can easily become “stuffy” or boring. In order to avoid landing at either extreme, consider the following guidelines for throwing a successful holiday celebration.
Determine Your Budget and Pick the Location
Before you can begin the planning process, you’ll need to know your budget. All other factors (venue, entertainment, food, etc.) will depend on this step, so it’s always best to start early. If you have a generous budget, you can host the party at an off-site location, hire a catering service, and bring in outside entertainment to make the celebration especially memorable. These events often require more planning time, as spaces and vendors book up fast for the holiday season. If you are working within a smaller budget, you’ll have fewer resources to invest in your party, but will also have more leeway when it comes to your planning timeline. You may want to consider holding the event at the office, and think of creative ways to make the party special in spite of the ordinary location. A little decor can go a long way in making a familiar space feel new, so don’t be afraid to deck the halls!
Be Conscious of Timing
When setting a date for your event, there are multiple variables to consider. If the party takes place too early in the holiday season, it may be difficult to stir up excitement about a holiday theme. On the other hand, if you wait until the end of the month, you will likely have many employees who cannot attend due to travel plans or other engagements. The best time to host a holiday party is typically after Thanksgiving weekend, and before Christmas week. You’ll also want to determine which day of the week makes the most sense for your party. Although weekends are often preferred for evening events, venues typically charge more for weekend bookings, and employees may already be tied up with other plans. A weekday after-work event might be more convenient for some of your guests, but do consider the potential effects of hosting a party mid-week when employees are expected to work the next morning. In order to figure out what kind of timing your staff most prefer, it might help to send out a survey in advance polling employees on their scheduling preferences.
Establish a Theme
Nothing pulls together a party like a good theme. A theme ultimately sets the tone for the event (i.e. formal vs. casual), and establishes a standard for attire. It can be simple and classic, ( “black tie gala”, “ugly sweater party”) or it can be original and tailored to fit your budget, your location, and your guests. In 2015, UE hosted a “hipster holidays” party. The location — an iconic dive bar in San Diego’s Bankers Hill — set the scene as employees arrived in their trendiest beanies, suspenders, 1980’s graphic T-Shirts, and all other forms of hipster fashion. For this year’s party theme, we will be embracing an item of clothing most coveted by UE employees: the flannel. By choosing a theme that complements your company culture, you can create an event that employees will feel comfortable attending.
Mind the Booze!
Most holiday parties come equipped with alcohol. While employees may enjoy sharing a celebratory beverage with their workplace friends, moderation is the best practice when it comes to drinking among colleagues. You can help prevent overindulgence at your company party by offering a limited number of drink tickets to employees, or hiring a bartender to moderate intake. At Underground Elephant, we’re no strangers to beverages of the adult variety (we do have an in-office bar, after all). In order to ensure that our company gatherings remain fun, safe, and enjoyable for all guests, we stick to a few basic protocols:
Although guests are likely to enjoy eating, drinking, and talking with coworkers, setting up a game or activity at your party will add a little excitement and engage employees. At UE, one of our favorite holiday traditions is the White Elephant gift exchange. Each year, employees bring in their favorite gadgets, gag gifts, and bottles of booze to exchange amongst each other. Following the exchange, the festivities continue as we present the annual Undie Awards (think Senior Standouts meet The Office Dundies). Activities such as these are engaging, competitive, and fun for employees. If you prefer to offer other interactive holiday activities, you might consider coordinating a cookie exchange, hosting a department decorating contest, or arranging a trip to an ice-skating rink or other holiday-themed location.
The most important thing to remember when planning a holiday party is to keep it inclusive. Avoid religious activities, consider special dietary needs when planning your menu, and offer alternative beverage options for guests who don’t want to drink alcohol. Make sure employees know that the event and all associated themes or activities are optional. The ultimate goal is to show all employees that their hard work is appreciated, and deserves to be rewarded with a little year-end fun!