How to avoid common pitfalls and successfully manage your holiday workplace party or event

Holiday party season is quickly approaching, and for employers, this can lead to anxiety – not only about planning and preparing your holiday events, but also about managing them. While pre-COVID surveys indicated that up to 90% of Canadian workplaces host some kind of holiday event, most employees said they’d rather have a bonus or extra vacation day. So, if your holiday event causes you stress and your employees don’t love them, should you even bother, particularly with the added concern of COVID-19?

Clarify your intentions for hosting a workplace holiday party

It’s important to consider first the intention behind your event. Are you doing it specifically because of Christmas, or because it’s the festive holiday season, or the end of the year? Are you doing it because you think you have to, that your employees expect it? Is it because you’ve always done it, and it’s part of your organization’s tradition? Or is it because you want to provide a genuine and meaningful opportunity to thank your employees for their contributions? Many employers throw an annual holiday party to give back to employees. If that’s the case for you, is it achieving that?

Tips for a successful workplace holiday party

Upon reflection, if you’re confident you’re hosting your event with the right intentions – and it’s carefully planned and managed in line with the guidelines below – it can be successful and appreciated by your employees.

  • Start by considering if or how COVID-19 will impact your decision and whether all or most employees will be able to attend (i.e., due to vaccination passport requirements, or personal comfort)
  • Consider surveying employees on what they’d most appreciate, within realistic parameters, as well as what they’d feel safe with
  • Don’t just go through the motions. While you may have hosted a dinner or party at the same restaurant or hotel for the past 10 years, do your employees want to go to the same place, and do the same thing? With COVID in the picture, does it still make sense?
  • Refrain from a grandiose event if you’ve just made major cutbacks, restructured and/or dismissed employees
  • Ensure the location is central and easy for employees to get to by various means, including transit (unless you’re providing transportation)
  • Unless it’s during work hours, don’t make it mandatory and if employees opt out, don’t ask why, or treat them differently as a result
  • For after-hours events, consider whether to allow a +1. While it can add complexity regarding budget, mingling, and guest conduct (not to mention COVID), it can also increase the likelihood that employees will go, as well as facilitate a stronger link to the culture of the organization
  • Communicate expectations in advance – about transportation, alcohol consumption, driving, conduct, posting pictures on social media, etc.
  • Ensure leaders and managers lead by example, keeping in mind that it doesn’t take much to undermine a management role through bad behaviour
  • If you have a pre-set seating arrangement, don’t put leaders and management all together (either at a head table or otherwise), serve them first, or have them go first to the buffet. This sends a strong message to your staff that they’re less important
  • While you can use it as an opportunity to reward and recognize employees, don’t turn it into an organizational meeting (e.g., it’s not a suitable time to roll out the 2022 handbook, or talk about operational changes). If you do intend to reward employees, ensure it’s inclusive
  • Limit availability of alcohol; consider providing one or two drink tickets, or a set amount of wine per table, for example
  • If your event is after-hours and your employees choose to smoke, vape, or consume cannabis, remember that it’s legal for them to do so. As is the case for alcohol, the key point is that they conduct themselves appropriately
  • If alcohol will be served or available, provide taxi vouchers or another safe way to get home. Transportation should be a clear line item in your party budget
  • Manage inappropriate conduct discreetly and immediately (e.g., inappropriate behaviour or excessive consumption of alcohol, cannabis, or any other substance)
  • Don’t hang mistletoe. Enough said

While there are many important dos and don’ts to consider, careful planning will help you avoid common pitfalls – and allow both you and your employees to enjoy and appreciate your holiday event. That is, after all, the intent.

We can help you set clear parameters and avoid pitfalls this holiday season.