Throwing a Family Friendly Office Holiday Party
December 10, 2014
No matter how your business performed this year- it’s likely that by now, many of your employees are feeling overworked, under appreciated or just plain tired. They are ready for all those little holiday breaks where they can experience those Hallmark Moments- or at least wake up and not have to worry about routines and deadlines.
As a business owner or a manager, you don’t want employees heading off to vacation in the mindset that your business is some sort of prison. You don’t want to be their arch nemesis, looming overhead while they try to catch up on R&R. Instead, you want them to be motivated, excited and on-board for all of the new and exciting work ahead.
So what better way to send them off on their vacation than with a family friendly work party? For employees, a party can be the perfect segue into times of relaxation. Instead of reenacting the Hollywood end-of-school style exit with people running out the door in chaos and papers flying everywhere, you want employees leaving with the frame of mind that they are coming back to do something great. You want them leaving with a positive attitude about your business.
Throw away the suit and tie and dawn a festive party hat! It’s time to start planning! These 5 rules will guide the way to the perfect family friendly celebration.
Rule #1: Plan & Notify Well in Advance
Parties just don’t happen like in the movies. To be really great, they require some detailed planning. Starting with knowing when it's going to happen. To host a truly family friendly party for your employees—they’re going to need some notice. If the Mr. or Mrs. also works a full-time job, they may need to get some time off to attend. Unmarried employees may want to bring a date. And what about little Susie or Billy? They might already be making plans for sleepovers or outings with their friends for the holidays. You have to compete and provide enough incentive to win some time away from family, friends and down time. The time of day is important too. Family members that work or go to school probably won’t be able to attend a party held in the middle of the day.
By the time you're announcing the party, you should already know the important details like the dress code, the location and the start and end time (the clean-up crew will appreciate it). Let employees know right off the bat if they need to bring anything special and be clear about how far the family extension on the invite goes.
Lastly, you need to announce the party at least a week or two in advance if you expect a decent turnout. And if you can, personally pass out those invitations. You'd be amazed how far that simple personal touch can go. Do you send out a generic email your friends to invite them to parties? Or worse, bribe them with a bonus check?
Rule #2: Food Influences Everything
If you're having trouble nailing down the specifics, start here. There are two basic types of parties when it comes to food. Pot lucks and catered events.
A pot luck is low budget and ensures that there is something there for everyone to enjoy. If you’re holding a pot luck, it’s probably happening at your business or a private residence. As such, it will probably work best as an early morning or evening event. Otherwise you have to deal with the mess of storing the food somewhere during the workday and re-heating hot dishes before the party starts. Trust me, food poisoning is not a good way to start the holidays. Encourage individuals to put notes out for common food allergies next to their dishes (nuts, dairy, gluten, etc). A near-death experience is also not a pleasant holiday surprise. Dress code for pot lucks tends to be pretty casual, unless you are throwing a themed party.
On the other hand, a catered event is going to be a little pricey and you will need to take potential food allergies and head counts into consideration in the planning phase. This will probably be an RSVP affair, which means sending out invitations well ahead of schedule. Catered events can happen any time of day, but dress code will probably depend on the type of food being served. And if there is going to be alcohol present- you’re best off with hosting it at a restaurant or other dining facility with experienced staff, a cash bar and a license for selling spirits and liquor so that none of the liability falls on you.
Rule #3: Prepare to Mingle and Speak
Your goal is to put employees into an inspired and motivated mindset—not to let them meander off into the usual clicks and plot inter-office warfare tactics. To be a good host, you should make a point of saying hello to everyone, getting introductions to family members, asking if they have any holiday plans, etc. In short, behave more like a human being than a boss in casual conversation.
However, as a leader, you will also want to address the group. Prepare a short motivational speech. Tell a few jokes to start. If there are new employees introduce them to the group, now that you're all together. Give departments and employees recognition for any struggles they overcame this year. Tell them how you plan to tackle pain points over the next year. Remind them of any new policies taking place and set goals for how you personally plan to make this year better than the last.
Rule #4: Choose Themes and Activities Carefully
Themes for holiday parties can be tricky. If you want to throw a themed party, I would recommend you skip right past any particular holiday themes themselves and go for things like an “Ugly Sweater Party,” “Movie Characters” or “Family Game Night.” As far as activities go, simple games like bingo or charades, raffles and drawings can get employees to stick around longer and socialize more. You may even prepare a small video or presentation of business highlights from the year. Just remember, you don’t want every minute of the party to feel structured. Forced participation simply won’t feel celebratory and might lead to quick departures. The primary purpose of any planned themes and activities is to gain interest and to fill the gaps in the conversation.
Rule #5: End the Party on a Positive Note
When you notice attendees start to gravitate toward the door, make one final small speech. Wish everyone well, put out a positive vibe and tell everyone to have a safe drive home. It’s better to end the party on a positive note with a polite push out the door than to simply allow it to fizzle out on its own; even if that means it ends a little bit earlier than planned. By ending the party this way, the conversation and general atmosphere doesn’t have the chance to drift toward the negative. People who want to socialize a bit more will make plans to do it somewhere else.