holiday parties that employees won’t dread

In keeping with our recent discussion of holiday parties, here’s some advice from me on how to throw an office holiday party that employees won’t dread attending. It includes my no-parties-on-a-boat rule.

Please leave your own thoughts over at the original post!

By the way, a few people have mentioned in the comments that I’m posting more links to my outside stuff. It’s true — I’m writing more for outside outlets, so you’re seeing more of it posted here. However, I’ve actually increased the number of letters being answered here as well, so do not feel shortchanged!

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. CK*

    I would also add, if it’s at all possible, not scheduling it on a weekday evening or a Saturday (I think one of your earlier posts on office parties mentioned this as well). I enjoy my co-workers, but not enough to spend my free time with them (well, the majority of them anyway). I covet my time away from work and to me, a holiday party is still “work”, so it feels like I’m putting in extra time. Now, it may not be realistic for companies to have a party during the workday, but it doesn’t even have to be all that fancy – even a group lunch or an early afternoon thing with some appetizers would do (with the rest of the day off of course :P)

    1. VintageLydia*

      I think that may violate the “Ensure that everyone who wants to go can go” rule. In most offices, SOMEONE needs to handle the phones unless they just close early for the day.

      1. Esra*

        I think for most offices, they would be alright with a “We’re having an office celebration, please leave a message” auto-answer on their phone for an hour or so once a year.

      2. Jamie*

        It’s the one time of year I volunteer to answer the phones. I hate the phones, but not as much as I hate parties.

        It’s official – I am Scrooge.

        1. GeekChic*

          Then I’ll be Scrooge with you. I too volunteer to work so others can go, if that is possible. Otherwise, I just don’t go.

    2. Anonymous*

      Yes to this! My last company had a party that started at 7pm on a Friday and would go until at least midnight. In order to keep all of us there, they would hand out bonuses at the party and wait until the end of it to do so. It was the most awkward time and we all dreaded it.

        1. Jamie*

          I would love to hear your take on how end of year bonuses should be done.

          I’ve seen them done various ways – but a lot of places could use your guidance on how to do them properly.

          And yes, I’m aware that I’m putting in a shameless request for a post topic…in case you ever run out of questions.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            This is actually an area I don’t have a ton of opinions on, probably because you don’t generally see them in nonprofits (at least not generally as part of the normal pay structure, although they’re sometimes done more ad hoc). That said, if someone threw out a specific situation with details, I’d probably have an opinion :)

      1. Anonymous*

        I would say that’s less a direct result of the off-hours party and more a result of the planners being obnoxious and controlling! That sounds terrible!

  2. Anonymous*

    What thoughts are out there about this?
    My employer is a non-profit with 40-60 employees at 7 locations. For the past ten years the holiday party has been on a Friday afternoon at the central office with a potluck meal and white elephant gifts and board games. Casual.
    This year a board member and his wife are generously hosting the staff holiday party at their home on a Friday night, with cocktail attire and live music. Some employees are so happy to have the opportunity for fancy dress-up and for others this style does not appeal to them nor do they have the wardrobe nor means to stay overnight. That’s my comment. My question is, “What about a hostess gift in this case? Is it appropriate or inappropriate?”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s certainly not inappropriate, but it’s not obligatory either.

      By the way, I’d love it if you guys would leave your comments over at the original post, since it’s useful for them to see that readers are engaged with the content I write for them :) Thanks!

    2. That HR Girl*

      “Stay overnight”?? Like a giant company sleepover? I’m confused… Or I’m just imagining bad things happening. I think it’s an HR reflex. :)

      1. Anonymous*

        For staff who aren’t from the central office, this party is 2-3 hours from their homes/work locations so a party that ends at 11pm means they would likely opt for lodging somewhere that night instead of making the late night trip home. But we are a staff who camps together anyway.

  3. Anonymous*

    Perfect timing for a post like this, AAM!

    My company is having a holiday lunch at a nearby restaurant in the afternoon during work hours. But even if it’s during work hours, I would still dread attending. I’m such an introvert. I still felt obligated to hit the “accept” invitation button on Outlook because it would be wrong if everyone else left for the lunch but me. And then there’s happy hour afterwards, which I don’t think it’s wrong if I decline, right?

  4. JT*

    Great stuff.

    I also wish that people who go to the parties, especially managers, not stop by the desk of someone who didn’t go the next morning and say “We missed you yesterday.” Even if it’s well-meaning, it is so annoying to get four or six people saying the same thing the next morning. If I haven’t gone to an office party in a few years, maybe I just don’t want to go. Is it that hard to understand?

    1. Andrea*

      Also–and this is for managers and everyone else–if you notice a colleague (or anyone else) is not drinking alcohol, IT IS NOT NECESSARY for you to comment on it. Seriously. You do not need to say anything. Everyone else has already mentioned it, trust me. There are lots of legitimate and personal reasons why someone might choose not to drink alcohol, like for example a long family history of alcoholism, and none of those reasons are your business. I actually like company parties–if they’re done well, of course–but this is a huge pet peeve of mine, and it occurs in all kinds of social settings. I smile about it and politely insist that no, I do not want any wine and am fine with this Diet Coke, but after about the 12th time, I’m feeling pretty annoyed.

      1. Another Anon*

        Wow, yes! I don’t drink. I’m not stuck up, or unwilling to let my hair down. Don’t be whispering that I must be an alcoholic in recovery (though I have immense respect for those who are). Drinking and breast cancer go together in my family and I just want to live. I don’t want to be pushed for an explanation, though, because it’s not a topic for office party conversation. So I so agree with you in wishing that people would just mind their manners and not ask. That question is right up there with, “Ooh, you’re going to eat THAT? You’re going to get fat!”

  5. JT*

    If you’ve been working there awhile and manage is not petty about little things like attending a party, don’t go. It’s not that big a deal – or at least shouldn’t be in a properly run organization. Just eat at your desk and work. Or go for a walk.

    I’m skipping my organization’s party next week. This is a tiring time of year and I don’t need the stress.

  6. Anonymous*

    A former company scheduled its Christmas party quite late (last weekend before Christmas), and didn’t announce the date until a point when a lot of people were already committed to travelling or were otherwise unavailable.

    Given how hectic the year end is, I quite like scheduling a party for the beginning of January as it gives people something to look forward to once Christmas is over.

  7. Angela*

    I’ve always wondered why my dept. doesn’tt just take the money we have set aside for the Christmas party and donate it to a local charity. We have a holiday potluck anyway, I don’t really see a need to have an additional celebration.

  8. That HR Girl*

    My company has handled this in a pretty cool way in recent years –

    We have a big “family” party (read: mostly kid stuff) where you can bring your children or a niece/nephew to the home office and meet santa, see reindeer, go to “elf school”, decorate cookies/ornaments/etc. They will also have a “grown up lounge” serving coffee & hot cocoa w/ an added “treat” mixed in for grown ups… This usually happens on a Saturday morning. If you don’t have kids it’s not something you really feel bad about missing out on.

    Then, instead of having a swanky party where you bring a date, don a cocktail dress, etc… They decided to put the $15k budget all to charity. Employees vote for their favorite charity out of a few choices, and the top 3 will all get $5,000.

    Spreading tidings of good cheer without anything employees will dread! :) That’s all good with me.

  9. Anony Mouse*

    How timely! Right this very moment, there is a Christmas party for our Accounting department. Meanwhile, customers are calling in for account balances, to clear up accounts in arears, to pay invoices, ect… and no one to help them. We are a nation wide company!

    They keep ringing back to me, complaining that there is no one there to help them. Unfortunately I’m not in a position to help them either, aside from taking messages, which they do not want!

    Administration is deaf to the complaints of all of those who answer the telephones when we ask that everyone make their holiday parties after hours.

  10. Anonymous*

    I’m always annoyed when you post about people complaining about your site; not annoyed at you posting, but annoyed at people for complaining. They forget that this site is free and that you provide a great service to your readers. You would think that they would be happy you’re getting outside work that actually PAYS you, you know? And yes, it’s important for us to comment on the outside article simply because it shows that Allison attracts readers to their site, and it therefore valuable and they’ll give her more jobs in the future. It’s a way for her to pay the bills and people shouldn’t be upset about it. They don’t have to read this site or the others if they don’t want to.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Aw, thank you! It’s true that it’s really helpful to me if the sites that pay me to write for them see that people are engaged with the content, and commenting over there is a good way to do that! I do like paying my bills :)

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