Holiday work parties go one of two ways — something the employer has to do, or wants to do, according to writer Jake Kilroy in his Entrepreneur article, “The Nicest Party I’ve Ever Been To: A Christmas Story.”
Kilroy reflects on one holiday work party he attended years ago while working for a uniform and screen-printing company in California. It was a formal affair at an upscale restaurant. The lavish presentation, expensive dinner and generous open bar totally wowed Kilroy and his coworkers, most of whom were young and accustomed to a casual environment.
But what stood out most to Kilroy was how much his employer wanted to throw the party.
The company owners “welcomed us like family” at the door and asked employees to write down their favorite holiday memory on a piece of paper. Later, after dessert, employees took turns reading aloud a coworker’s name and favorite memory. As an employee’s favorite memory was shared, the company owners invited the employee to get up and choose a wrapped present underneath the Christmas tree in the dining room, in addition to a $50 gift card.
The company owners worked hard to make it a special party, and it was effective. Kilroy writes, “I had never had such warmth and respect at a job before.”
We’re in the peak season for companies throwing a holiday work party for their employees — most parties happen before the New Year, but for many in the service industry, the season continues through the end of January.
How can your company replicate the warm experience Kilroy had? Read on for tips to make your holiday work party a meaningful and appreciated event your employees will want to attend.
Holiday work party Basics: Engage, Don’t Entertain
Parties should be entertaining, but they’re not a show.
Increasingly, what employees crave from employers at their holiday work party is engagement.
“Millennial employees are driving change in corporate celebrations,” writes the Vancouver Sun’s Jenny Lee in “Holiday Parties Becoming More Casual, ‘Authentic.'”
Younger employees want holiday work parties that:
- feel authentic
- truly engage everyone together instead of forcing awkward mingling over cocktails
- contribute to a good cause
“People are wanting an experience,” an aquarium sales manager tells the Vancouver Sun. “People no longer want to sit back and be entertained. They want to be engaged.”
Companies are trying out unconventional venues — for example a holiday work party that involves a hands-on educational tour of an aquarium, followed by a stand-up reception in the lobby. As a bonus, employees appreciate knowing that the venue rental fee is in part supporting a local museum and its conservation efforts.
Other companies are hosting parties with games, live music and buffets that encourage interaction — all efforts aimed at getting employees to engage naturally with coworkers outside their usual department or team, according to the Vancouver Sun article.
BE AUTHENTIC, NOT OSTENTATIOUS
A holiday work party with catered plates and pricey gifts may impress employees for a couple of hours.
Only sincere gratitude and genuine excitement from management will make it the kind of party employees still talk about in June.
Workplace holiday parties are meant to achieve certain objectives: strengthen social bonds between employees, promote a feeling of company unity, and celebrate and appreciate everyone’s hard work in the past year.
But a common danger is becoming so fixated on these objectives that the party itself is a dud — forced, awkward and no fun.
In fact, as Julia Kirby writes for Harvard Business Review, workplace studies demonstrate several good reasons to not throw a holiday work party: no one mingles as much as they say they will, diversity suffers and HR often has to deal with the fallout from alcohol-fueled debauchery.
Yet Kirby argues for keeping the holiday work party tradition — if companies can stay authentic.
“I’m willing to bet that when you entertain in your home, you don’t do it with an eye to how you’ll profit from it. You do it out of generosity and the sheer enjoyment of spending time with people you like,” Kirby writes. “What if your company’s leaders just threw a party because they enjoyed your company?”
If management is skipping your company holiday work party altogether — or worse, making an appearance out of obligation — it’s time to reevaluate whether the party you’re throwing matches the company culture you’re building.
For holiday work party inspiration, check out this great list from Inc. of “Office Work Parties Your Employees Want to Attend.” These real-life examples run the gamut from casual to fancy — from a gaming party at an arcade to a formal reception at a botanical gardens, yet they all have something in common: they were memorable.
Share Gifts (With A Twist)
If your company is sharing gifts at your holiday work party, do it with a little pomp and circumstance! A gift shared without appreciation is much the same as an un-engaging party — it really can do more harm than good.
Jake Kilroy, the Entrepreneur writer who wrote about his favorite holiday work party, recalls that his company’s gift exchange was accompanied by coworkers reading each others’ favorite holiday memories — a party game facilitated by the company owners, who also greeted each employee at the door with a heartfelt welcome.
Those company owners knew what they were doing! It’s a great case study in workplace gratitude. Gift-giving accompanied by sincere appreciation, public recognition and good stories makes even the smallest gifts meaningful to recipients.
For more tips on workplace gift-giving, download our FREE eBook, “The Ultimate Guide to Employee Gift-Giving.” Learn from HR experts what really works.
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