Are You Planning This Year's Employee Holiday Party?

Common Questions and Answers to Plan Successful Holiday Parties

Let’s assume you’ve been charged with planning this year’s employee holiday party, but have been asked to organize the program to reduce costs without impacting the quality of the event. After all, employee holiday parties are designed to serve as excellent morale boosters that translate into improved employee satisfaction and retention levels.

It is a great assignment, but you may have some questions about the best way to approach and execute the holiday party. While the final decision is up to each organization, consider the following ideas:

What are the basic elements of a holiday party program?

Buffet Setup for the Employee Christmas Party, Majestic Hotel, Barcelona, Spain. (c) 2007 Rob Hard / RH Communications, Inc.

Of course, like any other event or project, you will need to create a project plan that identifies the event details for the employee holiday party. It should include the following:

  • Create an event theme.
  • Select a venue location, time, date.
  • Consider total attendees.
  • Choose appropriate food and beverage.
  • Choose appropriate decor for your theme and guests.
  • Create a planned agenda for the day of the event.

Should I create a large or small committee to plan the holiday party?

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A smaller group of individuals will likely make the planning more expedient and cost effective. Many organizations involve a large committee of individuals to plan the annual holiday party. However, time spent planning this kind of event may take away from the day-to-day productivity of those involved. Consider establishing a smaller team of individuals who are empowered to make decisions for the larger group.

Select those individuals for their ability to positively influence other employees and use the assignment as a reward or incentive for those chosen. And allow the organization's event planner to work with an empowered leader in human resources or marketing - someone authorized to approve the plan.

When is the most effective time to hold an on-site employee holiday party?

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The best time to hold an employee holiday party is probably during the lunch hour. In fact, historical holiday party data from Winston Battalia shows a growing trend to this decision, reflecting more than two-fifths of events.

Unfortunately, not everyone may have the opportunity to participate in the event because someone must stay back and answer customer calls and inquiries. But a lunch hour event allows the organization to control costs and reduces the obligations on employees’ personal time and commitments.

When is the most effective time to hold an off-site employee holiday party?

Four young adults toasting with champagne at cocktail party, smiling
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Obviously, if the organization isn’t hosting a lunch program, then they will host an evening event. An evening program will allow more employees to attend, but when is the most cost effective time to host the event and gain the biggest bang for the buck?

While some may think that Friday is the best day to hold the event because most employees will be off for the weekend, this is the most popular day of the week at restaurants and other venues – so this is the most expensive time. Few organizations will want to consider Sunday evening, so it seems the next best option may be Monday night.

Should holiday parties be held “off-season” in October or January?

Many organizations have started to do this as well. It allows for an opportunity to hold an annual appreciation event during a time when outsiders may not be paying attention to how much an organization spends on the event. A few benefits to this include:

  • Increased availability of off-site venue options.
  • Saving money on catering expenses.
  • Potentially better weather conditions (October).

One drawback, however, is that employees may not sense the event like a holiday party; instead, it will feel more like an “annual” appreciation event. Will they remember this around December 23rd?

What are some ways to create a cost effective holiday party menu?

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Plated meals are often more cost effective than buffets, and they present much more elegantly than having everyone stand in line and serve themselves. Of course, your menu will need to reinforce the theme of your event, and try to choose items that incorporate your event colors or brand. Other tips and ideas include:

  • Create a three-course meal menu.
  • Choose seasonal and locally produced items.
  • Limit alcohol consumption (more on this below).
  • Avoid renting holiday decor linens and other items.
  • Host at a venue that has standard holiday decorations.
  • Select modest items or fresh fruit for centerpieces.

Should holiday parties limit alcohol consumption?

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For years now organizations have been limiting the volume of alcohol at the holiday party event. This is for many reasons, including a strategic way to control the budget and to give greater focus to the message of the event rather than just the notion to imbibe. But if you’re including alcohol, perhaps these tips will help:

  • Limit to wine only options.
  • Close the bar early.
  • Offer drinks only during a meal.
  • Select a single signature drink.

What etiquette is expected at the company holiday party?

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The best advice for everyone who attends a holiday party is to make sure you remember etiquette for arriving and making others feel comfortable and enjoy the evening. Etiquette mistakes to avoid at the holiday party include:

  • Avoid excessive drinking.
  • Avoid excessive eating.
  • Avoid excessive talking.
  • Avoid excessive complaining.
  • Avoid arriving excessively late.
  • Avoid leaving excessively early.
  • Avoid wearing excessive attire.
  • Avoid bringing excessive guests.

Should holiday parties include a gift exchange?

Couple exhanging gift at party
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In general, many organizations actually include a gift exchange element between employees to their holiday parties. However, if the organization is larger, perhaps this is best left to a departmental level rather than at the all employee event. But if there is a gift exchange, perhaps it may be best if the host/organizer request a financial cap to the gift – perhaps $10 – to avoid issues associated with gift pricing.

Should fundraising be part of the holiday party?

This is an interesting one. Food, clothing and toy drives are part of the culture at many organizations. And that's great. Some, however, also encourage cash donation drives. While it’s very useful to associate a particular cause for the holiday party, it may be helpful for the organization to only encourage non-cash gifts and in-kind donations that may benefit the charity being supported. This way everyone is allowed the option to offer a gift at a value that fits their own personal budgets.

Should my organization solicit vendors to sponsor our employee holiday party?

Some people may think this is a great way to offset the costs of their annual holiday party. However, event planners and their clients may want to stay focused on the objective for their holiday party: it’s an employee appreciation event. Therefore, the employer organizing the event should cover the cost of the event. (Some employers, however, may also charge their own employees to cover a portion or all expenses.)

Generally speaking, though, the cost should be covered from an employer's operating budget. If the organization cannot afford to host an appreciate event for its employees or if it’s not part of the business plan for any reason, then the employer shouldn’t seek outside revenue to cover the cost through sponsorships.