how companies can throw holiday parties people actually want to attend

How excited are you about your office holiday party this year? Are you amped up to go or does it feel like one more obligation you wish you didn’t have?

Employers often get frustrated when they hear employees grumbling about the office holiday party. After all, these events are intended to boost morale, and companies usually put a lot of work, and often money, into planning them. But too often, companies put on holiday events that feel like one more seasonal chore to employees, rather than being the morale booster they’re intended as.

If you want to make sure that your office holiday party hits all the right notes this year, here are five tips to follow.

1. Consider holding the party during business hours. This is a busy time of year, and it can be tough for people to find the energy or the room in their calendars for one more event. Holding the party in the evening or on the weekends cuts into personal time that’s often already scarce this month. If you hold the party during the workday, it will be easier for employees to attend without having to feel they’re sacrificing time with family or friends, and you can increase their appreciation by giving them the rest of the afternoon off afterwards. But if you ignore that advice…

2. If you do hold the party outside of work hours, let employees bring a guest. If you’re going to ask employees to give up evening or weekend time, it’s considerate to let them bring a spouse, partner, or other guest. And don’t confine plus-one’s to spouses, as some companies do. That’s a good way to make single employees resentful and less interested in attending. Not everyone will want to bring a date, but if you’re using their non-work time on a work social event, it’s thoughtful to offer them the chance to bring someone along if they want to. (But of course, don’t embarrass people who choose not to bring a plus-one for whatever reason. Attending solo should be fine too!)

3. Don’t make attendance mandatory. Not everyone enjoys office social events, and that’s okay. Insisting that people attend even if they don’t want to is contrary to the whole purpose of boosting engagement and building morale. You’re not going to have a fun, relaxed event if it’s populated by people who resent having to be there. That means that you can’t penalize people who decide not to attend, even unofficially. And remember, this is a busy time of year for people! Be understanding if people have scheduling conflicts and can’t make it.

4. Make sure you have food that everyone can eat. Providing delicious food is a good way to ensure that employee enjoy themselves. Just make sure that everyone can partake in the offerings! If you have employees who are vegetarian, vegan, kosher, gluten-free, peanut-free, or have other dietary restrictions, plan ahead of time to ensure they’ll be able to eat. Picking through a sad, wilted green salad while everyone else tucks into a lavish meal is a bummer and not a fun way to celebrate the holidays. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you need to find one menu that will accommodate everyone; you may not be able to do that. Instead, just make sure that you have ample and tasty alternatives for people who need or prefer them. And if you’re unsure about your staff’s dietary needs, ask people ahead of time. Most people will really appreciate the thoughtfulness.

5. Choose a convenient location. No matter how great the location you pick, people will not be pleased if it’s an hour away or otherwise hard to get to. If some of your employees rely on public transportation and don’t have cars, make sure the party is held somewhere they can get to. If you want to be extra thoughtful, consider offering transportation if you can. That’s the kind of touch that can make employees feel like you really thought about their needs. (And speaking of location, think twice before holding a party on a boat, unless it stays docked. Otherwise people will be trapped and unable to leave a bit early if they’d prefer to.)

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I was also on Marketplace this weekend talking about holidays at work. You can listen below (it’s about nine minutes).

{ 348 comments… read them below }

  1. caryatis*

    Good suggestions! I would add: make it cheap to attend, if it can’t be free. I would say $20 or less.

    If that means the food or the location is less fancy, that’s okay. You want everyone to be able to come, even though people in the same office may make wildly different salaries.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Yeah, I’ve worked at nonprofits that had a fancy party they asked people to pay to attend. Thanks but no thanks!! Give me a cookie in the conference room and call it a day, if you don’t have any budget.

          1. LadyKelvin*

            You can’t use taxpayer money on food so we always pay for our parties. Christmas this year was $21. We can’t even buy coffee for the office or cookies for a seminar, we ask people to volunteer to make them for special events.

        2. CA in CA*

          Agreed. Reading this blog though, has made me realize that there are employers out there who would not only charge staff to attend, but give them grief about it if staff couldn’t or wouldn’t attend. Not much shocks me any more between this blog and my own work experience.

          1. Ruffingit*

            Yup. That’s exactly what happened at my company’s Christmas party. They wanted people to pay and they gave us s**t about not going.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes! Although in my experience, we usually potluck events instead of going out :) (But I’ve had to pay to go to a work party while in public service.)

          1. Jesca*

            You’re still paying for potlucks! Haha that’s my Grinchy statement to all my coworkers every damn time!

            I enjoy potlucks, btw.

          2. copy run start*

            Yup! It was always a potluck party when I worked for the gov. Even the “free” parties came out of the party fund we all contributed to.

        2. Snark*

          I’m a federal contractor. We don’t have lavish paid parties because every dollar our employer spends that’s not salaries and benefits makes us less competitive for more contracts. We go out for happy hours and do potlucks, if anything at all.

          1. Rockhopper*

            Really? Is that a recent change? My husband was in federal contracting for many years and they had some pretty fancy parties, which I was always invited to also. He left that field nearly 5 years ago though.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              From my experience working in several different units at a public university, each one has a different interpretation of what the over-arching rules are. I’ve worked in some units, for example, that provide coffee, tea, cream, and sugar for faculty, staff and guests, and I’ve worked in other units that swear up and down that university policy prohibits providing coffee for faculty and staff. The ones who interpret it more liberally use a written justification of “faculty, staff, and guests” and purchase amenities regularly. The ones that are strict about employee amenities attribute it to university policy, but the ones who get around it aren’t exactly breaking any rules either. There are just murkier rules around the policies than some units admit or take advantage of.

              1. PlainJane*

                Sometimes it depends on source of funds. Some departments have discretionary funds–often from donations–that have fewer restrictions than govt funds do.

                1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  That’s true. The frugality / lavishness matches up somewhat with the sources of funding. Of the units I’ve worked in (particular to my public university):

                  Engineering College: lots of corporate endowments, lots of grants, pretty strict and frugal with expenditures on amenities.

                  Design School: moderate sums of private donations, few grants, very liberal with expenditures and amenities.

                  Business school: lots of corporate endowments, lots of private endowments, few grants, moderately frugal with amenities but nothing excessively strict.

                  Education college: few private funds, few corporate endowments, lots of restrictive grants, extremely frugal with expenditures and amenities.

          2. CAA*

            Depends on the contractor. Last year I attended a lavish party thrown by a contractor at a Smithsonian museum in DC. That might be the fanciest company party I’ve ever been to — open bar, appetizers, top notch buffet food, live music.

            My former employer, who is also a fed contractor but not located in DC, throws a family party in January when it’s cheaper. They do pay for the food and whatever fun they decide to include.

            1. Specialk9*

              I was a Fed contractor for years. We had these crazy lavish holiday parties – 5 ballrooms each with a different music and food combo, ice sculpture martini chiller luges, etc. Wild and extravagant. Then we got more measured but still nice, then cheap. So it certainly ebbs and flows there.

              On the govie side, we had potlucks. Sometimes we all went to a nice meal but paid for our own food/drink.

        3. Noah*

          Huh, that makes sense. I work with TSA and FAA a lot. They always have potluck parties around the holidays.

          1. AMPG*

            I used to work with the State Dept. on federal grants. Not only were their parties potluck, but WE (their NGO partners) were usually asked to bring a dessert, as well.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        For department lunch & night out we get subsidised but have to pay some. It is completely optional though, and fancy do for whole company in January is free for staff.

      2. Backroads*

        They had better pay. Last year’s holiday party they paid for a fairly fancy meal plus had a ridiculous game that had respectable amounts of money involved as part of it.

      3. Em*

        My husband’s old job charged $10/ticket to attend, because if people have money down, they’re way more likely to show up. It helped reduce people RSVPing and not showing up.

        This was a party that was more like $100/person (hotel ballroom, prime rib buffet, open bar, the “door prizes” were a couple of trips to Vegas, that kind of thing), so the ticket cost didn’t upset people.

        1. Antilles*

          My last job did the same thing. When you signed up, you bought the $20 ticket. The Monday after the party, the HR manager would walk around the office with a stack of bills and refund you your $20 if you had actually attended*. So in practice, it was basically a refundable deposit, not a real ‘cost’ of money.
          *Exceptions were made if you had a legitimate excuse for no-showing, of course, because it’s not about covering the cost of your food, just a way to incentivize people to not RSVP yes and skip out.

          1. Liz2*

            So what’s legitimate? I could easily see myself giving $20 as my way to “contribute” and then enjoy taking the evening to just stay in pjs cause of my PMS. Someone else judging after that such self care wasn’t “valid” would be really weird. That seems another fast track way to sow resentment.

            1. Nox*

              hat’s the system we have here as well. We ask that if you can’t come, don’t feel bad. But don’t tell us you are and the duck out at the last second leaving us with the bill. In our refundable deposits we also give you a raffle ticket for a chance to win money or other fun prizes.

              We do the fancy party because that’s what people want here. We tried less formal ones but people hated it.

              1. Liz2*

                I’m utterly cool with paying tickets ahead of time so long as it is made clear what it will be for.

                It’s coming up afterwards to ask about my private life and then judge its validity as a good enough excuse that’s really problematic.

                1. Lehigh*

                  I’m not Antilles but I imagine if you don’t show nobody questions you – you just don’t get your $20 back; if you feel you had a really good reason you can go to HR with that reason to attempt a refund. I doubt they want to go around fishing for reasons to have to give money back.

                2. Antilles*

                  Well, first off, there was zero pressure to sign up in the first place. So people who didn’t want to come, had young kids, were traveling for the holidays, etc would just politely decline up front, never pay the $20 and that’s that.
                  But for the people who did pay upfront and then no-showed, if you don’t want your $20 back, then you just don’t provide an excuse period and nobody cares whether it’s because you were in the hospital or because you decided to stay at home and drink beer on your couch. It’s only if you want to get your money back that you need to actually say what you were doing…and even then, my understanding is that paid no-shows were sufficiently rare enough that they were pretty lenient on it – just enough to keep up appearances and prevent a mass no-show next year.

                3. SS Express*

                  I don’t think it’s a matter of making everyone explain why they didn’t come and deciding whether or not to return the $20 based on how “good” the excuse is. I think it’s more like, if you don’t go you forfeit your $20, but you can request an exception if you missed it due to something like illness or emergency.

                  That seems pretty reasonable to me, set ups like that are common for all sorts of things.

      4. Antilles*

        In my experience, it’s usually not that they’re ‘charging you to attend’ per se, it’s just that the company doesn’t cover every single cost – for example, they’re paying for appetizers but a full meal or that they’re fine with drinking but are not paying for alcohol…so the event could theoretically be free for you to attend, but in reality you will need to pay a little.

        1. myswtghst*

          This has been my experience as well. At my last job, the holiday parties included appetizers and a drink ticket or two paid for by the company, then if you wanted more than that, you were buying it yourself. (Granted, that change came after a few years of open bar that included one employee being removed by bar security then picked up by the police, and another employee driving drunk, totaling their car, ending up both hospitalized and with a DUI.)

        1. SallytooShort*

          Although this was state government. So, the optics of big parties paid for with taxpayer money wouldn’t be great. (I know that didn’t stop some agencies.)

      5. Nerdling*

        That would be a wasteful expenditure of taxpayer funds, doncha know? Right alongside coffee and refrigerators with ice makers.

      6. UK Civil Servant*

        We can’t spend public money on parties, it would be misuse of funds. We also get an annual email reminding us not even to *appear* to have extravagant “jollifications” using public money. Our team went for a pub lunch, £20-£25 each including drinks, out of our own pockets of course.

            1. UK Civil Servant*

              Yup :)
              Every year.
              I think it must be worded that way on some official written guidance somewhere.

        1. Em Too*

          Oh yes, I know of that. Generally management buys a few bottles of wine/alternative of one’s choice – out of their pockets of course.

      7. Kellybee*

        I worked for state government, in a part of an agency funded via charging other agencies for services. We did not have discretionary funds appropriated to us for things like holiday parties or office-provided to us, nor could we use the money from other agencies to pay for such things.

        When I started in that position, we were a smaller department, maybe 20-ish people, and we went out for a holiday lunch and party. The departmental managers paid for all but $10 per person out of their own pockets, and we covered the rest.

        Eventually we had north of 40 people, maybe even 50, and we went to a potluck lunch in an office conference room. We could -cook- so I often thought the potluck was better than going out. And certainly cheaper for the managers.

        Now I work for a bank, and each department goes out to lunch, reimbursed by the company. I am still getting used to the company paying for things like that.

        One cool thing we always volunteered to do at the State was we held an organization-wide “holiday treat center.” We’d book a conference room, and some people would volunteer to decorate/setup/tear-down and others would bring in homemade baked goods or just buy something at the grocery store. We’d play holiday tunes and put the Yule log video on the room display. It was open for 2-3 hours and folks could just stop in and have coffee and a treat and visit with people they might not see regularly.

        I think I am going to see if I can spearhead something similar for next year at the bank.

    1. zora*

      I would be more strict with that: If you can’t make it free, don’t do it. If it has to be low-key, in the office, do that rather than charge people.

      Only exception would be a government office or otherwise prohibited by law to spend money on a party for employees. In that case, still figure out how to do it cheap.

    2. OhNo*

      And bonus points for having a system in place to cover the costs for student workers or interns. I interned at a couple of places where the holiday get-together was a meal out at lunch that you had to pay for out of pocket – fine, perhaps, for the full-time workers who can spare $15-$20 for a lunch out. Not so fine for the unpaid intern.

      Luckily, at all of those places, young me had very kind supervisors who encouraged me to attend with the explicitly clear offer that they would pay for my meal. Something like that should always be in place if the company has students or interns and wants them to feel welcome.

    1. k.k*

      I think it’s more “know your crowd” when it comes to games. Personally, it’s big a no for me. But I have coworkers who LOVE the wacky games. I don’t get the appeal, but there would be much disappointment if we had a party without musical chairs. I think it works because 1. they are totally optional, no pressure to participate, and 2. they only bring back games that were a hit last year, ones with poor reception are cut.

      1. Jesca*

        Musical chairs, eh?

        Haha yes as long they are optional. And maybe out of the way so the rest of us don’t suffer second hand embarrassment.

        1. Amber T*

          Or prime seating for those of us who want a good view, because I would pay good money to watch our partners play musical chairs.

      2. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

        My office is like this too. We have some super-duper XMAS-XTRA!!!!!! types, and some that are more low-key (and then at least me who is indifferent to the holiday in a general sense).
        We play silly games for raffle tickets, but even if you don’t participate in all the games (some are like word-searches, and some are unwrap a giant ball of plastic-wrap while wearing oven mitts to get candy), you still get at least one ticket in the raffle jar and everybody only gets to win a single item. Plus, the raffle items are all under $10 each, so no high-stakes.

        Our actual party is basically a potluck. The company buys the main entree and everybody else chips in sides, desserts, drinks, etc. You can choose to sit and feast with everybody else, or you can go back to your desk and eat and there is no hassling about either choice.

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      Meh… wr did human battleships and went down well… main point though is people took part or watched or chatted with a drink elsewhere or headed home and all were ok to do.

      1. Tuesday Next*

        I just googled human battleships. I think we’ll be doing this for my kid’s next birthday party :)

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          It did look fun! I had to head before it got going fully to pick up kids but everyone loved it (that took part in it)!

    3. LadyKelvin*

      At our Christmas party this year we had to sing christmas carols (ew) and then played a game where 13 people stood up in front of the group and tied a box to their backs and had to shake out bells placed into the box. I was really scared at first when I saw boxes with holes around them and ties for your waist (Justin Timberlake NSFW reference, if you are curious), but then it was just weird and awkward to see my colleagues shaking their butts in front of the group. Not to mention it was only for a subset of the group so not everyone had a chance to play/win a prize.

      1. the gold digger*

        I really like my job but some of the corporate stuff –

        1. We are losing young engineers.
        2. Even in my Midwestern city, we have engineers from India, Iran, Egypt, Cameroon, and Bosnia. Not everyone is Christian. Not everyone is religious.
        3. We have Christmas decorations all over the place at the office, but we do not recognize the holidays of any other religion or culture.
        4. If only there were a way to make employees feel welcome.

        1. zora*

          Aww that is so sad!! My mom taught in a very immigrant/refugee heavy school, and I would be tempted to steal an idea from her. I would ask each non-US person what their favorite family holiday celebration is, and have the office learn about them on the correct date. Have the admins decorate the office appropriately, order/have someone make food, and send around an email about the holiday, the history, and how it’s celebrated. It would be such a fun opportunity to be more multicultural if someone wanted to!

          But then, I’m an admin who really likes event planning/party planning, so I’d have fun doing it. I wouldn’t want to force that job on anyone if the office didn’t have someone whose job was event planning or who wanted to do it.

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          Believe it or not, expat employees generally don’t consider local holidays to be unwelcoming. Part of getting used to a new culture is learning to appreciate the fun stuff it has, which includes whatever the local celebrations are. Also, so long as you’re not putting up a nativity scene or going to church, the rest of the Christmas traditions aren’t christian, so really, other religions don’t care. Trust me, the only people who feel religiously persecuted if you put up some shiny decorations and have a bit of a party are the fundie American “Reason for the Season” types – and they can stuff it. Seriously, imagine that you were working abroad and the company was like “so we usually have a big party to celebrate our traditional holiday, there was gonna be tons of cool traditional foods and decorations and games and stuff, but out of respect to you, we’re not doing it.” How welcomed would you feel?

          Signed, someone who’s been to a lot of Iftars, Bon Odori festivals, Chinese New Years celebrations, and Diwalis.

          1. the gold digger*

            Yes, I can see that, but they are not expats. They are (naturalized) Americans.

            I don’t mind that we have Christmas stuff. I mind that we don’t recognize anything else.

    4. Trout 'Waver*

      I think it’s a “know your audience” type thing. As long as you don’t force participation, it can be fun if you have that type of office culture.

  2. Ellen*

    #1 is so important to me! I spend so much time away from my kid as it is — I’m not giving up more family time to go to a work event.

    1. CA in CA*

      Same here. Ours is during work hours and I’ll be going. After hours, nope, don’t expect me to be there and don’t guilt me about it either.

      1. Jesca*

        Yeah I mean if it is like an excuse to wear a fancy dress or whatever, I will likely call a sitter and go. But as a single mom, my evenings are stressful enough. Please. No more.

    2. finderskeepers*

      #2 can be increased to include children. oldjob threw massive holiday party complete with activities (including a movie theatre) for kids

        1. Jesca*

          Haha I have kids and I agree with you! I do not want 1.) my coworkers around my kids and 2.) have to shuttle my kids around at a holiday party for work.

          1. finderskeepers*

            ” I do not want 1.) my coworkers around my kids ” I’m not sure what the takeaway is from this?

        2. The Other Dawn*

          Same here. Having to socialize with people I’m not all that comfortable with and then having to deal with kids? Hell no. I can deal with the forced socializing, but not the kids.

        3. Cat*

          I haven’t found that having kids at an office holiday party forces anyone to interact with children. You can if you want but you can also just talk to the adults.

        4. paul*

          Depends on how it’s done I think. If they’re off having like, a side party and they’re not mixing with adults? Best of both worlds. I don’t have to mess with childcare, and they’re not running around with the adults.

          1. OhNo*

            Yep, that would be better than just having activities set up for them in the main space. Even better, I think, if the company hired some child care for it as well. After all, if all the parents are trying to keep an eye on little Johnny over in the play area as well as socializing with their coworkers, it’s not going to go well.

          2. Alienor*

            I would have liked that when my daughter was younger, although under a certain age (probably eight or so), she would have taken one look at a strange place full of strange kids and gone “nope,” and I’d probably have ended up spending the whole evening at the kids’ party. :)

      1. Tuesday Next*

        At my first job we used to have a Family Day (separate from the staff-only, work-hours, alcohol-fuelled lunch). It was awesome. You could take anyone within reason rather than just spouse and own kids. I used to take my boyfriend and my little sister. Each kid got a gift and the venue was outdoors with lots of space to run around and make a noise without bothering the grownups. Pretty much everyone showed up and enjoyed themselves.

        1. Jesca*

          It is totally different when it is open, free, and kid-centric. But it shouldn’t replace the holiday party.

      2. Roscoe*

        Honestly, I’d prefer to not have children at these things. My current company allows kids. We are fairly young, so there aren’t a ton of kids there. But I’d rather not deal with it. A bunch of little kids hopped up on sugar is not my thing

      3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        My dad’s work used to rent out an indoor carnival for their holiday party – it was amazing. My mom never came but dad brought me and a friend. You had unlimited rides and everyone had five tickets for the games, plus a ton of food. It was super popular, and I have a lot of great childhood memories of it.

      4. Lady Phoenix*

        I have my issues. Just had our party with coworkers and their families. I noticed that a couple of the kids (like the ones near my table) running around, crawl around, bumping into my chair, breaking open m&m’s and letting them fall kn the floor.

        Uggggggh. I think I realized that me and kids younger than 10 do not get along.

        1. Specialk9*

          Oh yeah, I love kids, but they’re often drunken rampaging wildebeests. Metaphorically, of course.

    3. Cat*

      Our is held in the office and everyone brings their kids. The kids enjoy getting to see where their parents work and everyone else likes getting to see their coworkers kids once a year, so it works out pretty well.

    4. Lynca*

      Our “Holiday Party” is basically Family Day. People bring their kids. There’s usually cute crafts, a movie, etc.

    1. HS Teacher*

      I would add to this: have it during the work day, but don’t make it mandatory. Ours is having the life sucked out of it because the boss is forcing people to participate in a potluck. Never a good idea.

      1. Cercis*

        My favorite potluck story – I had leave scheduled during the potluck and I was expected to either bring food in early or give someone on my team $5 to cover my contribution (I guess she’d use the money to buy something for me). I pointed out that I wouldn’t be there and so wouldn’t be consuming any of it and therefore didn’t really have a contribution (coming at it from the “bring as much as you’ll eat” background I was raised in).

        This was the same job where I refused to pay $20-30 to attend the xmas party where they’d be serving food I didn’t like and wouldn’t eat. So yeah, I was “not a good cultural fit” for that office (except that I was in lots of other ways, just that my boss really took those two things extremely personally – everyone else just shrugged and said “what’s her problem? So you don’t want to attend, get over it.”

    2. Backroads*

      My ex-office was fantastic this way. Holiday parties were held during office hours. Best of all, attendance wasn’t mandatory. So, you either went to the office party or you went home early on a paid afternoon. I really liked that job.

  3. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

    I had to laugh when I read the advice about not having the party on a boat, because it reminded me of the Holiday Party disasters post where the CEO had to send a Monday morning apology email for the company party on a boat getting entirely out of hand.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      The LW of that one did say they left early though, so that party must have been on a boat that never left the dock or something? I was wondering about that when reading the letter.

      1. Turkletina*

        I think the LW explained that they sailed around for an hour or so and were docked the rest of the time.

    2. Zombeyonce*

      Parties on boats always worry me. I get motion sickness which is only slightly alleviated with medication and I don’t want to puke in front of coworkers.

      My husband’s company had their holiday party on a boat a while back and one of the spouses that attended was 9 months pregnant. We were all afraid she was going to go into labor on the boat.

      1. Little Miss Cranky Pants*

        My department at a Former Job did the holiday lunch on a boat once–without me. I got grief from my boss about it. “Oh, you *have* to go.” Um, well, no I don’t. I don’t like deep water, I don’t swim well, I get seasick. I ain’t goin!

        They were jerky enough to make me and one other nonswimming co-worker work in the office that day as they all went blithely to the dock. Oh, yeah, I did a lot of work that day, bosses. You betcha.

    3. Specialk9*

      I totally snickered. No boat parties or the president may start punching people who had retaliated by groping his wife.

    4. M-C*

      It’s been decades since I was trapped on a boat with a pack of drunk coworkers, but I’ve strenuously avoided boats since. This was the no 1 reason I gave to justify my aversion to cruises in a holiday party chat just a couple days ago..

  4. Lily Rowan*

    My job does a good job with the party, starting with having the party during the workday — 3-5, with wine and beer, and a nice selection of food where there was at least something everyone could eat, I think (although it was slim pickings for the vegans). It could be a little less Christmassy, though.

    1. Snark*

      The wine and beer is a little eeeenngh. People driving home with a couple down the hatch kind of concern me.

        1. madge*

          Seriously. I can’t understand why so many people consider the only alcohol options to be abstinence or drunkenness.

          1. SS Express*

            Absolutely! The options here aren’t get wasted and drive home or miss the party. They’re more like: enjoy socialising but stick to non-alcoholic drinks, stop after one or two, take turns being Designated Drivers with your colleagues, organise a ride with someone else, get public transport, get a cab, (potentially) charge a cab to the company… Adults make sensible decisions regarding alcohol allllll the time.

      1. Jesmlet*

        Last year our CEO offered to pay for people to take cars home. He did not offer this year. I’m thinking it had something to do with the bill as some people took cars to destinations about an hour away.

      2. LBK*

        I think it’s fair to expect that responsible adults can make appropriate arrangements for themselves. Frankly, booze on my company’s dime is the #1 draw of a holiday party for me.

        1. KellyK*

          Yep. Ideally, the company should make it easy for people to moderate their intake (offer food with or before the booze, provide plenty of non-alcoholic beverages too, don’t tolerate people pressuring others to drink, etc.). But it’s totally reasonable to expect people to drink responsibly.

        1. zora*

          Exactly. This would be fine at my office, because we all know that none of us drive. We are in a big urban center, and we all either walk or take public transportation.

      3. Specialk9*

        I have the same concern for work events right after work, with alcohol. But a 3 pm event should be ok by 5 or 6 pm, assuming moderation. (Though my preference is still no booze at work. Just… safer.)

        Though this year I finally relaxed my no-booze at work rule for a 3 pm holiday party. 2 small sips of wine… And I spill it all over the table, myself, my phone. So I’m the one who is so careful with alcohol at work … But smells like a walking winecask. Yeah, that’s about right, of course.

      4. copy run start*

        I agree. My company sets up something with the hosted hotel so you can just grab a room if you drank too much at the party, which I think is really smart. Some people also live very far away and would rather stay in town that night too because the roads can be dodgy this time of year.

        We do finally have Uber now, but I’m honestly not sure how far out Uber will go, and many of my coworkers don’t live in the city proper due to housing costs.

    2. Overeducated*

      3-5 is so smart. Ours were 10-1:30ish (division, combined with annual business meeting so only the last hour was “party”) and 11-1 (building-wide). Going back to work for 3-4 hours after a holiday party was kind of a drag.

  5. Amy S*

    #6 Do things to address morale issues throughout the year. Doesn’t matter how great the holiday party is if everyone hates each other and hates working there!

    1. all aboard the anon train*


      My VP doesn’t understand why everyone just grabs food and goes away at the 85656 holiday parties he throws throughout the year. He gets upset when no one decorates or dresses up, and doesn’t understand it’s because most of us are unhappy and some free pizza isn’t going to fix low morale.

    2. designbot*

      And in fact, what would normally be a great holiday party after a bad year can strike the wrong tone. Okay you’ve gone all out and it’s fantastic… but if you’re not paying your employees enough, or they’re working on outdated equipment, they’re likely to see this as misplaced priorities. If everything is all togetherness and cheer at the holiday party but you’re screaming at them the day before, it feels fake.

      1. K.*

        Yeah, my friend used to work at a company that laid off a bunch of people and had a lavish holiday party in the same year. It did not go over well.

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        Yes. My previous company filed for bankruptcy, awarded only the exec team bonuses and raises, laid off a lot of people, and then threw a big party. People were not happy. We were severely underpaid as it was, so seeing how much was spent on the party and execs did not go over well.

        1. Triplestep*

          Yes to reasonable workloads! I work in Facilities Planning/Management, and at one former company, the head of our department got up at our party and told us all about his expensive (his word) family trip to Disney World, how great the customer service was, and that we were to begin giving that level of service. All with the same paltry resources we already had, and a completely top-heavy department. (Too many alleged decision-makers and not enough boots on the ground getting stuff done.) His “Excellence” Lead with the made-up job then handed out lanyards we were required to wear that said “How can I help you?” Merry Christmas, you all suck, do better!

  6. Moon Elf Tempest Cleric*

    I always enjoy my office holiday party. We have a low key catered lunch in the office, a few door prizes are given out, and then there’s an optional white elephant/gift swap event. Then we are all free to leave for the day early.

    1. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

      My last company also did the holiday party well. There was a catered lunch, an optional yankee swap and then a trivia game where the prizes were always things like “extra PTO day” or “Leave X hours early”. There were always enough prizes so just about everyone walked away happy and the questions for the trivia were a nice mix of holiday/work-related/pop-culture questions. There was also only one of the Full day of PTO prizes so there was a rule announced at the start of the game that if you’d won that prize the previous year you were not able to win it for a second year in a row. They even did a good job of mixing up the teams so there was no real pattern to how they were chosen. One year we counted by 5’s and then were grouped with our same number, another year we chose slips of paper out of a hat – all the slips were names of characters on TV shows and you sat with the others in your show. It really did keep it fun and fair. My fave year was the year this really quiet guy – born in Turkey, raised in Germany and really not at all familiar with a lot of American pop culture and holiday customs – nailed nearly every question in the trivia game. He was so animated and even indulged in a little bit of good natured trash talking. Turns out he had hated not having all the answers the previous year so he studied up. :)

  7. Miranda*

    A previous employer of mine donated the cost of an office party to a charity we all voted on in a elimination type poll. It was so much fun and really brought the office together.

    I would definitely be happy if office parties just disappeared.

    1. LawPancake*

      That would be awesome. I would so much rather a good charity got a nice check than a couple hours of work socialization.

  8. all aboard the anon train*

    My big things:

    1. Remember your employees are adults. My company likes to bring in “entertainment” that would be more suited to a child’s party. So, jugglers and magicians and balloon animals. The “party” is a catered lunch during the work day, with no guests, and we get an hour and half to eat before going back to work. It’s always really awkward and people just want to eat their catered lunch and go back to work instead of having to sit through a bad magic show. (I also feel awful for the entertainers who are being paid but ignored because everyone is uncomfortable or annoyed).

    2. Don’t throw a fit if not everyone celebrates Christmas. They’re not being party poopers. It’s just not their holiday. Also, if they have said they don’t celebrate Christmas, but grab some snacks, don’t accuse them of lying about the holidays they celebrate or the fact that they ate a cupcake means they “do celebrate”.

    1. nnn*

      OMG yes, +1 on #2! I hate it when the fact that I wore red in December or ate a piece of chocolate gets me a “See, Christmas isn’t really so bad!” lecture

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        Yeah, it’s ridiculous. I’m so over it. It makes me dislike the holiday even more when people are trying to force it down my throat as a “it’s not so bad!”.

        Eating a cupcake at a work event =/= celebrating your holiday. A few years back I had to switch out my red winter coat for a black one during December because I was tired of people telling me “see, the holidays aren’t so bad, you’re dressed up!”. It’s a red coat. It’s not related to the holiday.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      My spiritual investment in eating holiday-themed cupcakes is based entirely on cupcake quality.

      1. Specialk9*

        Haha yeah right?

        While we’re on the subject, why are cupcakes always so disappointing? Cake is about the best thing ever, but an inconvenient shape. A cupcake is cake… In a cup. With a pretty icing cap and maybe some fancy embellishments. So why are they invariably* dry and sad and disappointing?

        I feel like I’m unintentionally making a long extended metaphor about religion, which is awkward because I’m actually fairly religious, if nontraditionally.

        *Except Georgetown Cupcakes? Those are a mouthgasm, every flavor. I’d never brave the line down there block, but once work got them, and yessss!

    3. LBK*

      I have to imagine #2 is a regional thing and more common in areas with high populations of devout/evangelical Christians…

        1. LBK*

          Bizarre. I’m also from New England and couldn’t imagine this happening. Maybe I work at a company of particularly non-religious people?

          1. Anon7*

            I work at a Catholic institution where about 80% of the staff is observant Christian, and that behavior would still be weird here. I think it’s less of a religious/non-religious split, and more of just having coworkers that are either socially blind or just jerks.

          2. all aboard the anon train*

            The religion aspect is more or less people who aren’t super religious but think Christmas is a non-religious holiday because of how it’s been commercialized and don’t understand why some people still view it as a Christian holiday or don’t care to celebrate it (whether for religious or personal reasons)

            1. Specialk9*

              Which is always extra funny because the name is actually CHRIST MASS, from before spelling. So yeah, not religious?

            2. LBK*

              Ah, got it – I was thinking about it the other way around, ie Christians being myopic about there being others who don’t share their practices.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        I’d enjoy a good magic show but the ones they have are….bad. Like really bad card tricks and pulling a flag from a sleeve. Something that screams more “learn to do magic!” than, you know, actual illusions.

  9. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

    When gathering for food please don’t insist on saying a blessing and making everyone participate. Jesus may be your reason for the season, but not everyone is your religion. Also…leave the religious talk and indignation over people who don’t say “Merry Christmas” at home.

    1. DecorativeCacti*

      Whoa. I celebrate Christmas because I like glitter and presents, not because of my religious beliefs. I give my in-laws a pass on the praying because I know not everyone is just in it for the cookies like I am, but I would have a hard time doing that in the workplace.

      1. Tuesday Next*

        It’s the norm to say a heavily Christian grace before the meal at my husband’s work dinners. A little awkward for the Jewish folk at the table (us) as well as the Muslims, atheists and others.

        1. Jesca*

          Yeah, why are places still doing this!? I live in a pretty conservative area that only gets more conservative the more rural you get (and its not that far away to get very rural haha), and even in those privately owned places, they don’t do “Christmas” anymore! 13 years ago, yeah sure. But not now. Though maybe in the one township they might …

        2. Temperance*

          Gross. I absolutely hate that. Way to make people feel uncomfortable at what’s supposed to be a celebration, asshats!

        3. Jesmlet*

          I’m Catholic and this would make me feel super uncomfortable myself, never mind the secondhand discomfort for everyone who isn’t Christian. Unless you’re a Christian organization and you know every employee is also Christian, the thought of saying a prayer before any work-related event should never even cross your mind. Ew.

    2. Susanne*

      Eww. I just don’t get how in the United States in the year 2017 it is such a revelation (no pun intended) that there are people who don’t celebrate Christmas. Especially given that in urban areas – you know, where the majority of people in this country live, hence why they are urban – it is just not even remotely remarkable or noteworthy that people celebrate all different kinds of things. I really do not understand why people from these non-urban areas who think this way do not have a sense as to how behind the times they are. It truly is a mystery to me.

      1. LBK*

        I mean, when you have a POTUS openly preaching (no pun intended) about how this is a Christian nation…

        1. Susanne*

          Right, but this is way before the current POTUS.

          There are actually parts of this country where it’s just assumed that everybody is Christian (and Protestant Christian for that matter, not even Catholic). It’s like they skipped the chapters on the country being founded on religious freedom, it’s like they skipped the chapters about the massive Jewish immigration around the turn of the 20th century, it’s like they forgot all of the others that make up this country — it’s just bizarre. And they think they are “the real America” for some reason, and no one has the guts to tell them – uh, no, you’re not.

          1. LBK*

            I don’t disagree; more just saying that I don’t think there’s ever a point where those people didn’t believe this was a Christian nation, and certainly not now with the highest office in the land affirming it. If anything we’re going backwards as a backlash to perceived attacks on “Christian values” (despite, as you say, never having been a Christian nation to begin with).

      2. Specialk9*

        I don’t think it’s that they don’t get that we non-Christians exist in their space, it’s that they wish we didn’t. Exist, that is.

  10. Temperance*

    The best work party that I ever attended was for one of Booth’s former companies. The venue was at a train station, so very easily accessible via public transit, and there was a “casino night” theme. There were a bunch of fun casino games set up with professional dealers, and you “won” raffle tickets (and also gambled raffle tickets). It was a ton of fun, and those who didn’t want to gamble got to just do the raffles, eat, and drink.

  11. Chris*

    – Second the “no wacky games” thing
    – Further, how about no or extremely minimal activities of any kind. That is, feel free to provide OPTIONS, but no mandatory “ok, guys, now we’re going to do this craft I saw on Pinterest”, as if I give a damn about making a snowflake out of a pinecone or whatever
    – Make it 100% a holiday party. Don’t also bring in the CEO to talk to you, or have a talk from someone about a work-related topic, etc. Just provide food, drinks (alcoholic or non), time, and maybe 1 or 2 completely optional things (bad sweater contest, whatever). No one wants to go to a holiday party and then realize the company is treating it like a staff meeting

    1. Zathras*

      And if you do an optional bad sweater contest, have the contestants explicitly sign up for it! My aunt won one of these one time without knowing it was happening, wearing a sweater she made. (Luckily she thought that was hilarious.)

      1. paul*

        A coworker of mien (Same one with the shot reindeer cookies actually) got 3rd in ours Friday without evening meaning to enter >.> She didn’t seem to take offense when the judges assumed she’d entered….IDK though.

  12. Snark*

    Just in general, I think a lot of workplaces try way, way too hard to make it a Thing. It doesn’t need to be a Thing. Hold it during the day, offer a variety of foods including options for predictable dietary restrictions, let it go just long enough that people can have a pleasant conversation and some food, don’t get clever with wacky games or raffles, don’t make it some enormous evening party where people have to find babysitters, don’t make it too lavish, don’t be cheap.

    1. zora*

      I agree.
      In our office, everyone works really hard, so it’s just an opportunity to get everyone to take a break together and have some time to chat over great food. That’s all it is, and everyone loves it!

    2. myswtghst*

      let it go just long enough

      Yes, this. Even if it’s on a weekend at an off-site venue, don’t make it some endless party where people are guilted for leaving before the bitter end because they need to relieve their childcare or need to catch the last train home.

    3. spock*

      My company has a lavish evening Thing and most people love it (and those that don’t are not penalized for not coming). It’s not a requirement for a good workplace but it’s not silly to want to hold a lavish event once a year even if some people will bow out because they don’t want to deal with babysitting.

      Teams are free to organize their own low-key in-office workday gatherings and many do, but for a fancy party at a local landmark you do really need the company to organize it top-down.

  13. Anonymous Poster*

    We have ours in January or February. It’s nice not to have one more thing to plan around, and being purely voluntary/bring your plus one/no worries if you don’t show up, really helps negate if it’s far away or on a weekend. Most people are scattered all over and last year it took us an hour to get to the place, but it was a nice affair and helped ease into the winter doldrums a lot more than the hectic Christmas-New-Years parties followed by months of cold and gray.

    In the end though, it was nice, even though it was on a weekend and a bit far. Having it a month or two afterwards was a really great idea.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      My partner’s work does that as well. The Thanksgiving->Christmas stretch is already the busiest time of the year without considering work parties.

    2. pomme de terre*

      I second January “holiday” parties. Never had one at an actual job, but an arts org I’m a member of used to do a Sunday holiday party and I always really enjoyed it. What would have been another obligation in December was a welcome change of pace in January. (The org did its party in December this year; I didn’t go.)

    3. Safetykats*

      The company my spouse works for used to have theirs as an after-holiday party (I think they just left it too late one year and couldn’t get a venue in December). Over a couple of years it evolved into a Mardi Gras party. Over the next couple of years people mostly stopped going, because we are in the wrong corner of the country for Mardi Gras (and I think it just got confusing). Now they are back to an actual December holiday party, and I guess it was reasonably well attended (although not by us).

    4. Sled dog mama*

      Just found out that my brother’s employer does a “Christmas in July” party.
      ::Goes off to apply there::

      1. whyo*

        At a former employer of mine, they decided to have a “holiday” party in April, only because it was cheaper to reserve the venue at that time of year. So there was no official celebration in December (some individual departments had their own small celebrations though). Before April, they had a big round of layoffs, followed by the invitation to the FUN, HOLIDAY PARTY!!!

        So, four months too late due to cheapness, layoffs = employee morale in the toilet, followed by a party invitation.

        No one attended. No one.

  14. mAd Woman*

    This year, we rented out a private showing of a holiday movie at the locally owned movie theater, with open bar and plenty of food for all dietary needs in the office. It was really fun. We’ll also have a small cookies & milk reception on the Thursday before Christmas during office hours since not everyone could make the big party.

    1. zora*

      oooo, that’s a great idea! I’ll try to remember that if I’m ever at a bigger company and I get to organize the holiday party.

      My high school theater director always (still), rolls down the huge projector screen in the theater the last day of school before winter break, and marathons holiday movies all day. The standbys were Scrooged and the original Grinch. When I was in school, he would also lower the lights and put up twinkly lights, and most of us would skip out of all our other classes and just hang out in the theater all day and he ‘wouldn’t notice’ because it was ‘dark.’ ;)

      That could be a fun work thing, too! Just project a holiday movie on the wall the last day before the holiday when everyone is just catching up on stuff before leaving. Hmm, thanks for ideas!!

      1. Specialk9*

        Great ideas for a workplace that is a church, monastery, or convent! So long as only Christians are allowed to work there, it’s a great approach.

      1. JAM*

        My office did Office Christmas Party last year and Daddy’s Home 2 this year and they both sort of worked. I bet you could find a movie with a partial setting in December and make it work. Die Hard/Die Hard 2 and You’ve Got Mail both feature the holidays without being a Christmas movie.

  15. ToodieCat*

    Don’t make people buy new stuff to wear. (We have a theme we are supposed to dress up for every year, such as roaring ’20s.)

    1. Your Weird Uncle*

      Oh. That sounds horrible. I’m a Halloween-Scrooge and have a friend who changes her Halloween theme each year, and of course expects her guests to follow suit (so to speak) and dress up to match her theme. I refuse to go because I’m not big on costumes anyway, but even if I didn’t mind I would resent having to buy/wear a whole new outfit just to match her party theme. (Of course she has lots of friends who love it and go all out every year….if that’s your thing, great, but it is so not mine.)

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      This soooooo mystified me in a mystery series. A background development was the opening of a wildly popular new nightclub where you had to be in 1920s wear, which you could rent at the costume business next door.

  16. Fake Old Converse Shoes*

    #5 is something that most companies never consider. First job had its party at the west side of town, since 70% of their workforce lived in that area. The remaining 30% had to make its own arrangements, which was the perfect excuse I needed to avoid the party altogether.

    1. myswtghst*

      Agreed. And even if you do hold it at Venue A this year because it’s convenient for 70% of the workforce, maybe consider holding it somewhere closer to the other 30% next year / for the next outing (or at least 30% of the time), especially if it is being held off hours.

      I work in a satellite office, and 99% of the events we’re “strongly encouraged” to attend are held near the main office in a large city (which is approximately a 2-hour one-way commute using public transit or at least 1+ hour of driving [again, one way] with the added bonus of outrageously expensive parking). While I get that the large city has lots of fun venues, and I do sometimes enjoy going downtown, doing so in the middle of winter in what would normally be my downtime isn’t my idea of a reward for the long hours of hard work I put in all year round.

    2. halfmanhalfshark*

      My company is generally really great about this stuff, but this year they held their holiday party, which is usually at a restaurant somewhere, at the suburban home of a manager. City taxis don’t go to the ‘burbs so anybody without a car (or who didn’t want to drive drunk) was looking at a hefty Uber fare. I declined to attend (just thinking about wanting to go home but having to stand out on my boss’s lawn while waiting for an Uber is giving me anxiety) but made up an excuse because “I don’t want to take a two hour public transit ride/$50 Uber to a party” felt weirdly childish. Nows I feel quite vindicated after seeing #5 on this list.

  17. CR*

    My office had our party on a Friday this year for the first time, which was great. It was appetizers/finger foods (free) and a bar (pay). I think everyone had a good time.

  18. designbot*

    I think the timing to venue relationship is a really important one too: don’t make employees come back to the actual office on a weekend. If the party is in the office, have it during or adjacent to office hours (e.g. 5pm on Friday instead of 7pm on a Saturday)! If you want that Saturday night party, do it somewhere else.

    1. Loz*

      No! Not Fridays. I have better things to do with the weekend than work functions. Friday is get out early and go to somewhere interesting!

  19. SusanIvanova*

    And, though it’s only a preference and not a restriction, don’t set the spicy level of everything to five-alarm. And that means having more alternatives than just the crudités platter.

  20. Jesmlet*

    Our holiday party was a Friday in the first week of December in NYC, where it’s only convenient for 2 people to get to, which means paying for the train for everyone else, and was prefaced by a 5 hour long meeting and included a game of Yankee Swap several drinks in during dinner. I wish we could’ve just fast forwarded to after dinner to where people tend to trickle off and go home and the rest of us drink for several hours but then it wouldn’t be an office party, it’d be a couple coworkers hanging out. Dinner and drinks are free and we always go someplace nice so all things considered, it’s probably not too bad compared to other holiday parties I’ve heard about.

  21. Incredibly Lucky*

    I’ll preface this by saying I work for a completely amazing software company and the owner is almost unbelievably cool and generous.

    Our holiday party is set up to be kid/family friendly. You’re encouraged to bring significant others, children, friends, etc…. One of my coworkers brought 11 members of his family (and it was fine!). It happens at our headquarters which is already pretty wild/colorful/fun in design and decor. This year the theme was Earth/Air/Fire/Water. Each wing of the building was a different setup. For example, the “Air” wing included flavored cotton candy, jewelry making, and a balloon artist. The “Earth” wing had sandboxes and a reptile room with snakes and tortoises. “Fire” included a face painter, a giant Lite Brite board, a s’mores station, and a candy bar where you could make your own bags filled with whatever candy you wanted. “Water” was a gigantic ocean themed tent with food bars for sushi, mashed potatoes, meatballs, etc….and an adjacent blacklight tent with a dj where you could make your own glow in the dark shirts. There was also a setup in there where you could “marble” your arm by dipping it in a bin full of swirls of flourescent paint (like a temp tattoo). Santa was downstairs and what was cool about that was that the company paid for a present for each child (we told them what to get ahead of time) so the kids could get a gift from Santa that they actually wanted. There was also a scavenger hunt to complete and a video game truck out front. And two huge open bars. Everything was free.

    The best part is, they kept the decor up an extra day and threw a party for local underprivileged kids as well (complete with Santa gifts for them too).

    Needless to say, I never want to leave this job!

    1. Snark*

      That sounds expensive enough to give everyone a a holiday bonus, and too precious by half for my tastes.

      1. HS Teacher*

        It’s possible this is done on top of a holiday bonus. I prefer cash too, but I wish I worked for a place that did something so cool.

      2. I Hate Techies*

        It’s a software company. They’re probably getting stock options plus ungodly bonuses. He undoubtedly posted about it to rub our faces in it, ‘cuz Silicon Valley.

        1. Safetykats*

          The company I work for does something like this as a fabulous family picnic in the summer. Lots of food, drinks, beer garden, games for the kids, music, freebies galore, managers in dunk tanks, you name it. I’m glad they do it on the weekend and keep it out of the office. Those of us without kids can hang in the beer garden. Anyone can go or not go, or stop by for as long (or as short) as they please. Being trapped in the office entertaining co-workers’ kids all day – not my idea of something that is included in my scope. And don’t get me wrong – I love some of my coworkers’ kids. I’m just not interested in any party that has no clear opt-out, and this one doesn’t seem to.

        2. Zombeyonce*

          That doesn’t seem like a fair assessment. We’re all talking about good and bad holiday parties, why get down on someone doing the same?

        3. Incredibly Lucky*

          Nowhere near Silicon Valley (thousands of miles away in fact) and no “ungodly bonuses and stock options”. And not trying to rub anyone’s faces in anything, just sharing my experience. Everyone who works there is very loyal and hardworking and believe me, we all know how lucky we are to have a CEO who genuinely believes in giving back and taking care of his employees. And I’m female btw :)

      3. Specialk9*

        It sounds cute to me! I’d be annoyed by the Santa bit, and I’m confused about pretty much everything at the Earth station, but still very clever. I’d happily marbleize my arm.

        My synagogue celebrated Hanukkah with a kid event focused on light – light boxes with clear Legos and big clear letters, a star lab projector, etc. It was clever and thoughtful and the kids loved it.

        1. Specialk9*

          So what did people DO in the sandboxes? Like, shovel it around like a toddler, or rake it smooth like a Zen master, or walk barefoot like a beach comber? And did they hold the snakes or just look at them? Inquiring minds want to know.

    2. B*

      This sounds absolutely amazing and the right way to do a holiday party. I especially love they also did it for underprivileged kids. What a way to keep company moral high.

      1. I Hate Techies*

        You’re buying into the Silicon Valley hype. Excuse every ostentious display of wealth with some donation “for the chirrrrdren.” Gimme a break.

        1. Jesmlet*

          You can’t possibly be this cynical… even if that’s true, the kids still benefit so what’s the harm?

        2. Zombeyonce*

          You sound awfully bitter in your comments about this company’s party. I’m guessing your username has something to do with it, but no need to be mean.

        3. Willoboughy*

          Are you OK? Do you need help? You sound really upset and bitter in your comments here. Maybe call your therapist – or your mom? You don’t sound happy at all!

          I hope tomorrow is a better day for you.

    3. all aboard the anon train*

      ……were they real snakes? I wouldn’t be setting a foot in that holiday party venue if they were D:

      1. Specialk9*

        And here is the snakes, bats, spiders, rats, and cockroaches interactive exhibit! Enjoy!

        (I actually totally dig snakes, but I know that a lot of people do not, emphatically. I’d likely steer clear unless I knew everyone and their phobias well, or cleared it first.)

  22. Erso*

    I typically enjoy my office party. It’s an afterwork event where we go out to dinner and get free food and wine. There’s usually a raffle of some kind for prizes. And you can bring a +1.

    The best office party I’ve ever been to was at the Museum of Natural History. It was a family-friendly event, but that just meant it was the best of both worlds – free drinks, free food (dino nuggets!), they brought in animals that you could see up close (I got to see a big lizard and an owl) and it’s all held under the big blue whale.

    1. kitryan*

      Our parties for the past two years have also been at museums. Having some sort of activity people can do has been great! No more awkward mingling, I just go off and look at the displays or take the museum tour. The exhibits provide ready made conversation topics so I’ve ended up talking to more people than I would have otherwise.
      All in all, my office is really good on holiday parties- they’re free, they’re in early November or January, so it’s less busy, and transportation to the party is provided. Attendance is encouraged but not mandatory, you can bring a plus one, and the food’s usually pretty good.

  23. Anons*

    I’m in an office in a different city than headquarters along with a handful of other people in my department (only one is on my team). My supervisor came out to our office and treated me and my other team member to lunch, which I thought was really nice.

    We still all had to travel hours to headquarters for the holiday party though (during work hours for the most part, but I am sure we all get home later than usual and the day is 100% nonproductive and it’s not like our work goes away because we’re traveling for this). It’s fun, but I wouldn’t go if that were an option.

    Any suggestions when you have people who are remote (though maybe the only real solution is to not make it mandatory)?

    1. Rachel*

      My husband used to work for a company that was based in a different city than us (about a 3 hour drive), there were only around 5 employees in our city. For the holiday party they paid for a hotel room and gas for us to drive down and stay in their city for the holiday party and for me to go as well. That worked well because it wasn’t a bad drive though.

    2. zora*

      We have remote people, but we have them fly into the main office about once a month already, because we have a small team and face time is useful. So, we coordinate our holiday lunch with the time they are in the office anyway in December, and that way they aren’t making a special trip, but they get to spend time with the team. And, should go without saying, but all of their travel expenses are covered by the company every time they come out.

      In your case, I would probably not require everyone to go to the main HQ party. I would organize one easy lunch with the whole office at your office location, and have the HQ party be an additional option for any one who *wants* to travel to that party. And also budget for hotel rooms for any remote people who want to attend.

      For a bunch of people who are remotely working from home or different locations, if I didn’t have the resources to physically bring everyone together, I would still try to do something accessible to everyone. People have posted here ideas like having Skype/Videoconference ‘parties’. Give everyone a budget to get a snack/drink, and logon to video together to give them time to chat and interact a little about something other than work. I don’t know if I can find any links quickly, but I will post one link I found when looking for team-building for a remote team.

  24. MissDisplaced*

    We had a nice one! Not terribly exciting through.
    We’re a pretty big company, so this was just at one of the largest locations.
    We had from 3-6 pm and the party was held in the downstairs atrium. Lots of food, and snacks and free beer and wine. I actually enjoyed this much better than previous places with big sit down lunches or dinners and the gift exchanges. You felt free to mingle with others or stand at the small tables scattered about. For those who don’t like these things, you could leave early or continue working if you wanted, or do a little of both.

  25. Anxa*

    Loner seating!

    Or at least, try to make it easy for people to go who may not have come with a group, especially if you have a large org. Some employees may be more nomadic and work autonomously throughout the day and not know anyone at the party, even if they work there.

    Also, let hourly workers who are scheduled to work during the party fast track through buffet lines so they can grab some food and get back to work.

    In short, don’t forgot that not everyone at your office is salaried, works weekdays, works closely with others in their departments.

      1. kc89*

        Many companies have staffing needs 24/7 and there are some people who have to miss the party

        It’s nice when they do something to make up for it, I recently had to work through my companies holiday party but they were nice enough to order me a large pizza from a fancy local pizza place and also gave me a target gift card

  26. The Tin Man*

    About the Marketplace segment, all I could think was “NO NO NO NO NO NO” to the person who was wondering if she should ask the office manager for her coworkers’ addresses so she could send them Christmas cards. Perhaps an overreaction but my first thought was “In WHAT WORLD is that acceptable???”

    I’m still reeling a little bit. I would be completely uncomfortable if a coworker mailed me something without me ever having given them my address.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Addresses are such public information, though. Heck, you used to just look them up in the phone book.

      1. Safetykats*

        Yeah, not anymore. I haven’t had my address listed under my actual name for years – and for a lot of years before that I opted out of providing it in the phone book. So do (and did) a lot of single women I know. Where I live is only your business if I choose to make it so.

      2. The Tin Man*

        You used to be able to through a phone book, but can’t now. I have trouble finding myself on WhitePages. Probably helps that I rent. And they seem confused that I have the same first and last name (but not middle) as my father.

        That said, even if a coworker *could* find my address without asking an office manager that would not change my discomfort with them mailing something to my personal address without me providing it.

      3. Footiepjs*

        I’m in my city’s Polk Directory but my partner is not. (which explains why I get all the direct mail for the household)

      4. Specialk9*

        What’s a Is that an app? Does it come in Android and iPhone?


        But seriously, who gets published in a phone book? (Not me.) Where does one get a phone book these days?

        I’d be very creeped out if my office gave my PII data to a co-worker, who could easily hand me a card at work. I’d probably go have a chat with the cybersecurity or compliance folks. Data privacy is a big deal.

  27. KHB*

    If you’re holding the party during business hours and giving everyone the rest of the day off, see if you can choose a day that doesn’t coincide with one of your teams’ all-hands-on-deck unmissable deadlines. Or, if that’s not possible, consider offering comp time to people who have to work through the afternoon anyway.

    1. Anonygoose*

      UGH that happened to me and my team this year for the party – upper management completely ignored really important deadlines that affected at least 3 departments, including ours. My team was a frantic frenzy trying to get everything done before the party, and most of us had to miss half of it still.

    2. Video Gamer Lurker*

      I would almost think (going back to elementary school for this idea) but a “leave work early” pass would be a better party favor, then those who leave that day early can, and those who can’t can save their pass for a less busy time.

  28. AnonEMoose*

    A few additional things to consider:

    If alcohol will be served, seriously consider transportation options so that people aren’t driving drunk.

    If there will be music, make sure that either the volume will still allow people to talk, or make sure there’s a quieter space in the venue. Or maybe both.

    If it isn’t during work hours, really, really DON’T penalize people, even unofficially, if they don’t attend. People have all kinds of reasons, not all of which they’re comfortable sharing – and they shouldn’t have to.

    1. London Calling*

      Yes a million times to the ‘don’t penalize people.’ My CFO is an otherwise lovely man, but he gets hyper about the party as it approaches, and we get has everyone saved the date?/decided what they are wearing?/looking forward to it?/is everyone going? comments generally dropped around the office, ramping up as the date approaches. Say you’re not going and it’s ‘Ohhhh, whhyyyyy nottttttt?’ Then today (the party was last Thursday) we got – did everyone enjoy it? No, because I didn’t go. I don’t DO Christmas parties, thanks. In this job I spend up to four hours a day commuting when the trains are bad, on top of eight hours actually working, and I like a break from colleagues. He doesn’t strongarm you to attend but the subtle pressure is there.

  29. Swedish Chef*

    I’ll give my company a ton of credit for putting on a good holiday party. Essentially, they hit all the high notes: the party is free, plus ones are included and not limited to spouses, there’s an open bar, it’s catered with tons of food, there’s an employee-organized voluntary bake off, there’s a DJ spinning music, and attendance is optional. They also cover the cost of hotel rooms for remote employees who want to attend, and the cost of Uber/Lyft so that everyone gets to and from the party safely (because: open bar). The party is always themed, but costumes are no longer mandatory. It helps that the company is actually fun to work at, and people are paid appropriately.

    1. Mints*

      My company’s party is good overall but I think would be vastly improved by offering a reimbursement for Lyft/Uber. Because there’s an open bar. And it’s always held at a hotel where upper management gets hotel rooms but $120 out of pocket isn’t really a deal for us worked bees. It’d be much better (imo) to hold it somewhere less swanky and budget transportation for the drunk employees after.

    2. zora*

      Remote Employees: My boss and I always make sure to coordinate with our remote peoples’ schedules, so that we have the holiday lunch when everyone is in town and together.

      There are remote employees tied to our larger offices in other cities, and I’m 99% sure that they didn’t even talk to the remote people about it. They have a very “well, not everyone can make it, what can you do?” attitude. Yeah, sure, there’s always a chance a couple of people will miss a party, because of schedules, etc. But if you don’t even reach out to specific people, every single year, to even TRY to get everyone together at the same time, they are justified in feeling bummed about that. It’s so rude to me. :o\

  30. Kiki*

    I feel like my job (which, granted, is 5 people) has the best holiday “party”. The boss takes us all out to lunch at a nice-ish restaurant that we all agree on during the work day, and we all bring cookies or another treat to share and eat at the office after lunch. And we usually close an hour or so early that day. It’s fun, relaxing, food is good, and it’s not too expensive.

    1. Penny*

      My small company (10 people) does the same. We all take the afternoon off (paid), go to a restaurant we all like, order a ton of food to share around, get drinks, and chat for a couple hours. Boss pays for it all. I look forward to it every year!

      1. Blue*

        Agree. This sounds like my idea of fun. The best work holiday parties I’ve been to have been small ones. I’ve never been to a large one that was actually any fun.

  31. MariaTeapot*

    Our workplace threw a lovely party, but now has an “optional” event to attend (costing $xx.xx.) Would be lovely if I wasn’t broke. .-.

  32. Ingray*

    My newish job had the party off site on a Friday evening and you had to pay $20 to go. There were no vegetarian options and the food was lousy. And yet almost everyone went and seemed to have a good time. I’m a little baffled.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Well, that’s a good sign right? Maybe they like working together enjoy the company even if the venue sucked.

    2. I Hate Techies*

      All you need to do is get a job in Silicon Valley, pay $2000/month for a lousy apartment stolen by some gentifying developer, and you too can get a party with ice sculptures.

  33. Akcipitrokulo*

    Our office based one with moving to pub went really well this year!

    Christmas quiz in morning.
    Lunchtime turkey sanwiches (with vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options)
    Afternoon mulled wine & mince pies (soft drinks & vegan pies)
    5pm phones close early for nibbles and drinks and games… and judging of best decorated department announced. (Competative spirit had got a little silly ;))
    7pm ish head to pub with free buffet and first drink.

    All of it 100% optional.

    Really went down well!

  34. Construction Safety*

    Oh, if you have to cancel the party due to weather (or whatever), please ensure you contact everyone.

    1. PB*

      Or if you decide to start an hour early, make sure you let everyone know, especially if they’re working off-site and making a special trip to attend the party.

  35. Tuxedo Cat*

    Make sure many people can attend. Look at vacation days, schedules, etc. I once worked at a place where the admin just picked a date without considering whether people had scheduled meetings.

    1. Emily Spinach*

      I was teaching an evening class at the university one term and they kept scheduling department social things during my class! I know it wasn’t deliberate or aimed at excluding me specifically, but it was disappointing. Worst was one event was visible from my classroom, so I saw all my colleagues going together to get free food and drinks while I had to work.

  36. Product person*

    It would be nice if publications scheduled this type of article for earlier in the year. I already had my holiday party (as did my husband), and even for folks who didn’t, I’m pretty sure everything is planned and there’s little to be gained from getting AAM’s great advice so late in the game :-/.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s my fault! I should have written it earlier — although no one is really looking to print holiday articles at the point in the year where the planning really starts, so maybe it’s more about the planning for next year.

  37. GiantPanda*

    No long speeches. “Thanks for all your hard work, happy holidays, enjoy the party.” ist sufficient.

    No very loud music. Have a place for people to chat.

    Invite everybody and at least think about remote employees, shift workers, people who are stuck covering the phones.

    Convenient location: I think it’s even more important that the place is easy to leave than to get there (better chance for a ride or carsharing).

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      Related to the no long speeches, please no speeches that are focused on how marvelous the upper level folks are when the bulk of the attendees are lower level folks. Maybe I’m petty, but it just feels odd that we’re giving extra attention to people who already get plenty of it.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, no speeches that are going to make me have to exert serious willpower in order to not make a jerking-off motion.

    2. myswtghst*

      Totally agreed on your last point. It’s frustrating enough that I usually have to drive or take the train and walk, either of which takes 1-2 hours, to get to the venues for our holiday parties, but it’s so much worse when it has no parking / only expensive valet parking, or is far enough away from the train station that I can’t walk and have to now pay for a cab on top of my train fare and parking. Add to that if the party doesn’t end until after the train stops running, and I’m considering if the benefits of going are really worth the cost.

  38. nnn*

    If, for whatever reason, you’re leaning towards having a potluck, I highly recommend a potluck/ordering-in hybrid. People can either bring a dish or can contribute to a pool of money used to order take-out/delivery.

    There’s a huge range of reasons why potluck might be a disproportionate burden to some people. By adding the money option, you’re making your event easy and accessible for as many people as possible.

    Some people respond to this idea with “Don’t be silly, potluck is easy! Everybody likes it!” If that’s the case at your organization, then proposing a hybrid event will simply result in a potluck. But if there’s some consideration that hasn’t occurred to you, a hybrid event will eliminate that potential drama.

    1. KellyK*

      This is a fantastic idea!

      I can picture people saying, “Why not just buy something with the money you’d chip in for delivery?” but like you said, if that’s easier, that’s what people will do. But if someone’s really strapped for time or cash, it’s easier to contribute $5 toward delivery than it is to make an extra stop at the store, actually find a shareable potluck option for that $5, and bring it in. And you end up with better food if everyone who’s on a tight budget can chip in towards pizza than if those people all separately bring in a bag of potato chips or whatever.

    2. PlainJane*

      ExJob did this, and it worked really well. Even those of us who liked to cook occasionally contributed for the catered food if we were extra busy that year.

  39. Susan the BA*

    Let people sit wherever they want. No assigned seats, no “you have to sit next to someone you don’t know”, no “everyone gets a popsicle stick as you enter and if you have a red popsicle stick you sit at a red table”. If you want to force people to mingle, have some kind of networking event and advertise it as such. If you want to show people you appreciate them, treat them like adults and let them sit with (or avoid) whoever they want.

    My division finally started having activities in breakout rooms so if people just want to sit around and eat more candy (or go back to their offices) instead of doing “fun” thing we’re allowed. There’s still an expectation that everyone WILL go to this ostensibly optional event, to the point where some directors call in sick rather than having to be there…

    1. The Grinch*

      I’d add, allow people to easily move around during the event! I’m not a people person, and the idea of spending 30-40 minutes socializing with someone I don’t know very well while we eat is not pleasant. I like events where I can stand about, say hi to people, then scoot.

    2. Construction Safety*

      OTOH, don’t make the new folks sit all by themselves, either intentionally or by default.

  40. CDM*

    “Consider holding the party during business hours. … and you can increase their appreciation by giving them the rest of the afternoon off afterwards.”

    Just please make sure this holds true for EVERYONE. We have three offices. I have a 2+ hour drive from home to the main office, so for last year’s “employee appreciation” luncheon, letting us “go home” at two meant I had a ten hour work day. Comp time? Ha.

    We got pushback this year for our office not participating in the holiday luncheon on Dec 22, since the other office which is an hour from the main is going. I’m not a team player for not wanting to spend who knows how long in traffic on the turnpike on the Friday before Christmas trying to get home after being “appreciated”. Fortunately my boss held firm in the declination before letting me know about the pushback.

  41. Jam Today*

    The best holiday parties I’ve been too were the best because we had a really good group of people in our office, who genuinely liked each other and enjoyed working around each other. We threw a couple of potlucks, one guy had a backyard smoker and brought in pork barbecue, people brought booze, and we just kind of hung out and took it easy for the afternoon, eating and chit-chatting.

    The worst was when the division went to a very expensive steakhouse during business hours, so our operations team couldn’t go because they were doing real-time work. It was 100% in keeping with how they viewed that group — they didn’t really count as part of the “team”. Ten years later and I’m still furious about it.

  42. The Grinch*

    I would go to my employers’ holiday party if 1) all my other coworkers kids’ weren’t there, and 2) if snacks/drinks were served instead of an entire supper, and 3) if it wasn’t a sit-down affair where I got stranded at a table with a coworker and their kids for the time it took to eat that supper.

    But it’s mainly the kids. I’m just not that into children, and holiday parties (even dry!) are awkward enough without kids involved.

    1. SS Express*

      I used to work at a company where each department had their own party during the work day – you might go out for lunch or have afternoon drinks at a bar or do some kind of fun activity – then they would also hold a company-wide “family party” at the office on a Saturday (most staff lived locally) which would essentially be a fair with rides and animals and face-painting and hot dogs etc. I heard wonderful things about the family party from colleagues who had kids, but I didn’t have to actually hang with said kids myself. Best of both worlds!

  43. Bend & Snap*

    I do not like holiday parties but they’re an important visibility opportunity. However, I’m a single mom and weeknight babysitters are pretty much impossible due to daycare schedule/pickup. So I’ve missed my party the last 3 years and it looks bad.

    If they were held during the workday I could and would absolutely go.

  44. rosiebyanyothername*

    Be straightforward about the dress code! One of my coworkers got criticized for not wearing a jacket to the Xmas party… but he was a new employee and we were just told “dress nice,” so it wasn’t much of a pointer. If you want people to dress nicer than normal, be specific about it.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yup! Some of us love to dress up nice but won’t unless we know we’re supposed to, so we appreciate the heads-up as well.

  45. PearBear*

    My workplace may have it’s problems, but our holiday party is where we excell. It’s always on a Saturday in a cool location (this year it was at a local winery) with unlimited free booze and food, good raffle prizes and an optional silly game I never partake in. No one gets out of hand, and no one judges anyone.

    It helps that I have a lot of friends at work, so I never feel like I’m stuck painfully trying to socialize.

  46. nnn*

    And here’s a bold idea for workplaces where not everyone celebrates Christmas: don’t have a Christmas party. Don’t have a “holiday party” because everyone else is having parties at this time of year. Don’t have a Christmas-party-in-all-but-name in January. Instead, have your major annual party at the start of a new fiscal year, or on International Teapot Making Day, or on the birthday of the founder of your company, or some other occasion that has everything to do with your organization or your mission, and nothing whatsoever to do with a religious occasion that already oversaturates culture for months on end.

  47. K.*

    The “have it during the day and give the employees the day off” thing changes a little if you have hourly employees or contractors. In that case I’d say either pay them for the time or really stress that it’s not it mandatory. About five years ago I did a W-2 hourly contract job for six months that included over the holidays. The company’s holiday party was a fancy off-site lunch. Everyone was required to go and everyone had the day off afterward and it was fun (the people in the department were really nice and welcoming, and morale was generally good) but honestly, I’d rather have stayed and gotten a full day’s pay, particularly since the company closed between Christmas and New Year’s so I lost out on wages for that week.

  48. The Other Dawn*

    I would say that, although my company breaks the rule on having the department party during the workday and allowing guests if it’s after work hours, and also making sure the food accommodates most people, people generally enjoy our party. Maybe because it truly isn’t mandatory and it’s typically a convenient location? It’s changed in the three years I’ve been here and people still seem to like it. First two years was hibachi and last year was at a game center (food was meh). This year it’s split between a meal at work after hours (no idea what the food will be!) and then a trip to the game center. I definitely enjoyed the party all three years, but this year I just want to skip it altogether. I think because it’s too much saturation between the company event, a department potluck, Yankee gift exchange with other teams in the department, a gift exchange within my team and then finally the department party. I’m pretty happy that I have an excuse this year to not participate in the games: two bulging discs and an annular tear. (I realize I don’t need an excuse, but I’m a manager, and I also didn’t want to skip out on parties too early in my career at this company.)

    1. myswtghst*

      I think because it’s too much saturation

      This is another great thing to keep in mind for managers / coordinators when scheduling these things! Both in my current job and at my previous employer, I’ve been in situations where there is a corporate holiday party (offsite on a Friday night or Saturday night, not in the most convenient location), plus an outing for my part of the organization (think HR & training, during or directly following work hours), plus a celebration or outing for my team (just Training, usually part of a workday), plus the expectation that we help with the celebration for the call center employees we support (yet another workday), plus this year they had a white elephant gift swap on yet another workday. Any one (or maybe two) of these things would be fine and fun, but when crammed into a few weeks during an already busy work season and a PTO-heavy time of year, it all starts to feel a lot less “rewarding” than I’m sure it’s intended to be.

  49. Anon Accountant*

    Best party I’ve ever seen was having a catered lunch brought in, everyone for the afternoon off and small holiday gifts were handed out from the company. These were small boxes of candy, candles or visa gift cards. The office was closed down, there was a variety of food and just eat, get your present and leave.

  50. Adlib*

    We have a very small office. This year we all went to TopGolf (had extra $ in the budget this year for the party), had a catered lunch/drinks. That was about 10 days ago. Friday we did a Christmas breakfast from Cracker Barrel in the office with a white elephant gift exchange. Everyone was able to attend at least one of those, and we had a great time!

  51. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

    My work is very service oriented, so our party was focused around making nursing home residents and foster kids in group homes holiday cards. You could book yourself for as long as you felt like being there (including no time) and be all crafty (or be design consult if you are like me an can’t craft to save your life). They booked a conference room and and had one department bring breakfast snacks, one department bring lunch lunch snacks, and a third bring afternoon snacks. It was fun, even though I’m not sure I will ever get all the glitter I spilled on myself out of my clothes.

  52. Non-profiteer*

    One thing my office does, which at first seems strange, but I think actually works well: the party planning committee consists of everyone hired within the last year. They do appoint a couple of more seasoned employees as advisers and the office manager is obviously involved. But making the newbies plan the party keeps it fresh every year, and keeps us from getting stuck in a rut with a tradition that no one likes but everyone follows for the sake of tradition.

  53. Manager-at-Large*

    Things I’ve seen work:
    1) after years of declining attendance for an all-company holiday party at night with a +1, we went to departmental parties during work hours – as an example, catered lunch at the hotel next door with raffle prizes (airline ticket vouchers, gift cards) and a small gift to all (nice mug with subtle company logo)

    2) working in a secondary location with about 10 people in this city (of 30 or so total in organization), director came into town (from opposite coast) and took all locals in his department out to a nice dinner – no +1, but it was just a get all the team together and dinner worked better than lunch.

    3) a Sr Mgr with a small team, <10, taking team out for nice lunch, over and above whatever departmental thing was happening that year

  54. Lady Bug*

    Don’t make me dress up. If you are going to serve beer expand from Bud and Coors, at least give me a Sam Adams. No loud music and bad DJs, people should be able to talk (I love loud music, but not when I want to hear what people are saying). Don’t provide badly catered food.

  55. Manager-at-Large*

    Other successful ideas I’ve seen to celebrate outside of December holiday season:

    Company picnic on a weekend day in spring or summer – family friendly, at a park, with food and drinks provided – location worked for games for the kids like sack races or spoon races and so on. I think company hired someone to run the games and such so no employee was on duty for that. I didn’t attend but it was well received by those who did.

    Celebrate the company anniversary – catered lunch of a slightly higher quality at all locations on or around the company anniversary date with senior staff at each location “thanking all of you for all you do”.

    Monthly (or quarterly) lunches to “celebrate our success” – includes awarding for awards programs, work anniversary acknowledgments, birthday acknowledgments – may or may not be following a monthly “all hands” or “town hall” type of meeting for the division/department.

  56. Edina Monsoon*

    All the Christmas parties I’ve enjoyed the most have been paid for, no obligation to attend, 3 course meal in a top quality hotel or restaurant with a couple of drinks vouchers so you can enjoy yourself afterwards.

    Basically if they make you feel like you’re worth spending money on then that’s a good start!

  57. Bea*

    We had so much food we all take home the leftovers. It was hilarious how excited everyone gets and nothing goes to waste.

  58. Amber Rose*

    Ours was last Friday. It was an utter gong show. Please, please don’t involve sex in your company party. No sexy things, no sex jokes, no games oriented around sexual innuendo.

    The last two years we did Name That Tune games, which was fine and fun. I don’t know why this year we had to change it. ;_;

      1. Amber Rose*

        So, there was around 6 or 7 tables of 8 people. The “game” involved everyone at your table standing up, and everyone had to say a line made up by my boss, and anyone who laughed sat down and was out.

        Thing is, the stuff we all had to say was… awful. Unfunny. Bad, creepy jokes about balls and grandma kissing things and sitting on trees and loving poop or something. I think I’ve blocked the worst ones from my memory.

        On the not-sexy front, there was also a game involving tables racing to have everyone unwrap a chocolate kiss while wearing oven mitts, but I was fourth or fifth to go and I was too grossed out by the warm, slightly damp mitts to really get into it.

        The food was fantastic as always and I made heavy use of the open bar, but the games this year made the whole thing not very fun for me.

  59. zora*

    I like what my current office does. Although, we are a very small office, only 7 people, so that makes this easier. But, every office has a holiday party budget, and we use ours to go out for a nice lunch somewhere near the office, enjoy some time together and great food and then head back to work. Our company values culture and social time together, but also has a culture of respecting personal and family time. Our boss doesn’t want to cut into her time with her kids, so she wouldn’t expect us to spend a ton of time outside the office for a work event. This year we had delicious food, a glass of wine, time to get to know a new coworker, and that’s it. And as an hourly employee, that was all on the clock. I’m happy with that!

    1. zora*

      OH, and as the admin, I am careful to pick a restaurant that can accommodate everyone’s dietary issues. Luckily, it’s easy to find an ethnic restaurant where the vegetarian and vegan can eat, but is also delicious food for the rest of the office.

  60. Big Fat Meanie*

    The best holiday party I ever went to had a casino theme, blackjack tables everywhere, and they gave everyone free chips to start. I was able to plop down at a table and play all night – I figured I’d stop once my chips ran out, but they never did! I liked it because I’m not exactly a social butterfly, but this gave me a structured activity to partake in, that was totally optional and never really made me feel like I was being put on the spot. More companies should consider something like this, or maybe have board games set up or something.

    My second favorite holiday gathering was just a team potluck at my boss’s condo, we all knew each other and could just relax and hang out, and I got some cool wine glasses in the yankee swap!

  61. Tuesday Next*

    Don’t under any circumstances allocate budget for your permanent staff and not for the contractors and consultants who are embedded in the teams. That happened at a company I worked at and our departmental management team had to take the reasonably generous budget and stretch it over twice as many people. Going out for lunch and leaving half your team behind because they are not permanent staff is simply not an option.

    1. Anonymous Poster*

      I second this. I’ve been the contractor left out of this stuff, and was told, “But we allocate more money to you as a contractor”. Yeah. and my pay was 70% of the permanent staff’s, because the contracting firm needed to keep the bulk of it for their overhead costs. Thanks guys.

      1. Tuesday Next*

        Even if you get paid twice as much as the permanent staff, that’s not a criteria to exclude people on.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This came up in the open thread (I think) and there are legal considerations involving contractors being included in this type of thing. If you treat a contractor the exact same way as a regular employee, you can become the “employer of record” by default and that can open you up to liability/workers comp/etc.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        There are legal considerations, but in this particular instance I think you’re fine as long as you are clear and inform the contract employees’ employer. After all, you would probably invite consultants and school interns to your holiday party and they’re not employees either.

      2. Tuesday Next*

        “Contractor” is a bit of a red herring here because I’m not in the USA, so the concern you raise isn’t valid for us.

        In this situation contractors are essentially consultants.

    3. SS Express*

      This is the wooooorst. This happened once at a company I worked at. I don’t think it was intentional, I think it just happened because our Outlook mailing lists (e.g. “Marketing Department”) were managed by HR and only included internal staff, so the contractor needed to be added manually to any invitations and the admin who organised the party forgot. But even if it was an accident I still didn’t think it was okay that they hadn’t made a special effort to include everyone – not so much the admin but management, who really should’ve checked given there were already major morale issues – so I didn’t go either.

  62. Rockhopper*

    This won’t be popular, but don’t have an open bar unless you like seeing certain employees make absolute fools of themselves (see the stories in the previous Christmas stories column–the majority started with someone getting smashed). Wine with dinner, fine. A cocktail hour at the start allowing everyone 1-2 drinks, okay. But there is no good that comes from employees spending a 4 hour party trying to get their holiday bonus in booze. Yes, most of us have self-control in these situations, but we’ve all see the employee who doesn’t. And it makes me really sad to see it.

    1. Hildegard Vonbingen*

      I’m with you on this, popular or not. I’ve seen people do thinks while drunk at the office holiday party that negatively impacted their careers. I’ve sat in meetings with managers talking about how so-and-so will never be promoted after what he did at the holiday party. Sad indeed.

      I don’t get why some employees are so excited about being given free food and booze by their employer. The way some people go into a feeding/drinking frenzy when it’s on the company dime – even something as cheap and readily available as donuts – leaves me dumbstruck. I prefer to buy quality food and liquor, and I prefer to consume it in the company of people I’m not paid to spend time with. Apparently that’s also not a popular point of view.

  63. J*

    This seems so basic, but it has happened multiple times between my and my husband’s employer: Do not throw a party for some staff but not others. It boggles my mind that this has happened at 3 different companies between the two of us. At my first job, I worked in the admin department of a hospital. There were 15 of us in our suite. 13 reported directly to the Executive Director, and the other 2 of us reported to one of her reports. She did a big fancy half-day lunch out of the office for only her direct reports, excluding the 2 of us who were assistants to those reports. My current job is about 15 women and 4 men. They do a party for women only. (the founder retired earlier this year, though, and we are trying to change it to be inclusive this year). My husband is an HVAC tech at a small, family owned company. There are about 30 employees total. They did a party this year for all the office staff, sales team, dispatchers, parts guys, and excluded the techs. My husband was really hurt. This seems like it should be pretty basic, but apparently it is not.

    1. Bea*

      It disgusts me that they’d exclude people like that, I’ve never worked anywhere that acted like people don’t exist! Heck even my former company that is terrible included temps in the team photo. I can’t imagine how rotten you have to be to not invite techs when you have so few employees, my feelings would be hurt too.

  64. Tuesday Next*

    We had a really nice end-of-year get-together. I’m not sure whether it was intended as a holiday party or a team building event but it was great. We went to a pottery studio and threw pots / painted ceramics. The company paid for it, it was during work hours, and everyone agreed on it beforehand, so there was no reason for anyone to opt out. There was a bit of time in between to socialise as well, and some snacks and wine. Although arts and crafts isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, the whole team really enjoyed it.

  65. Tap Tap Jazz*

    A.) Do not make your employees play dumb games.
    B.) If you do make your employees play dumb games, do no allow everyone to whip out cell phones and start filming it without even asking if anyone minds.
    C.) If you do both A and B, you don’t have the right to hassle people who leave.

  66. Middle School Teacher*

    Ours was at a decent Italian restaurant this year. The sign-up sheet went up Nov 9 so people had a good amount of notice, we all bought our own dinner, and people had the option to bring a guest. Afterwards there was a reservation at the pool hall upstairs and the bosses paid for an hour on the pool table. It was a good party, very low-key, most people came.

    Last year we did a breakout room followed by hotpot. It was good but this was more fun.

  67. EmilyAnn*

    I’ve planned my office holiday party every year. We’re government, but military, so we have a fund to defray the cost but we charge. I also plan the fundraisers for the office holiday party. It’s during the day, the cost for employees is minimal, but spouses are a bit more. I always enjoy spending time with my coworkers and meeting their kids or spouses if they attend.

    It’s a pain. People don’t meet deadlines, don’t read emails with start times and location and come by my desk to ask questions about things that are in the e-mails. I do enjoy doing it, because then I get input on the menu and location. I volunteered and it’s not part of my job duties, I just have a tendency to pick up thankless jobs. Thank the person who organizes it.

  68. Leslie knope*

    As someone whose work involves daily deadlines that can’t be missed I can’t imagine anything more stressful than having to stop working during the day to attend a party. I don’t understand these comments at all. Plus…’s a party. Who attends parties at 3 in the afternoon?

    1. Susan*

      I feel like way more people relate to you in not wanting to attend parties.

      Lots of people like to attend parties at 3 pm, or work parties period…it doesn’t make them a worse employee than someone who doesn’t?

      1. Leslie knope*

        My point was that I don’t understand why you’d want a party in the middle of the work day rather than after hours…

        1. myswtghst*

          For me, it’s because I spend 1-2 hours getting to work in the morning, then 8+ hours at work, so I don’t really want to give up the few precious hours left of my evening to spend more time on work-related stuff (even if it is ostensibly “fun” work-related stuff). I’d rather have a fun break in the middle of my day, and maybe get to leave a bit early to start my commute home when there’s less traffic.

          Granted, if I were in your shoes with daily deadlines that couldn’t be moved or postponed, I’d probably feel the same as you do. If holiday parties are meant to reward / celebrate employees, I think it’s important for the people planning them to understand what would actually be rewarding for their employees (rather than adding more stress!).

          1. nnn*

            > If holiday parties are meant to reward / celebrate employees, I think it’s important for the people planning them to understand what would actually be rewarding for their employees (rather than adding more stress!).

            This! This is the thesis of the whole thread!

            1. BananaRama*

              Every employee has different motivations about what rewards she would prefer. One commenter said they would love kids at the holiday party, another said, “no way.” A bunch of folks want a party during the work day, and a bunch of folks don’t. Some discourage an open bar, some like the idea of having it.

              The bigger the company the more likely the opinion about what to do is going to vary. Even if a company did a poll, not everyone will like that their option wasn’t picked.

        2. Claire*

          Because I’d far rather have forced jollity with people I spend too much time with as it is during the day when I’m paid to be there than have to give up my free time for it. If I’m already at work then it’s just another form of work. My evenings are MINE.

  69. madge*

    Just say no to potlucks. Our holiday party is potluck every year, and I skip it every year. I have enough to do in the evenings. Thanks for giving me the gift of one more chore.

    1. Windchime*

      No kidding. I barely cook meals for myself; I’m not going to do it for coworkers and then haul a crock pot on the bus for an hour.

  70. Pebbles*

    So over a number of years, I’ve seen a variety of holiday parties at CurrentJob, some were company-level and some were department-level. Various levels of fun:
    1. Friday or Saturday night (I forget) at a modern art museum. Not everyone’s interest (wasn’t mine) but whatever. Company expectation was to dress up. SO’s included but no children. Small hors d’ouevres and dessert table was meh, but what made it somewhat enjoyable for me was the ice bar that served hot cocoa, pop, and a holiday-themed mixed drink.

    2. Hotel location for a Friday night dinner. Again company expectation to dress up with SO’s included but no children. Casino table games with each guest receiving set amount of chips. During the night you could trade in chips for tickets and put your tickets into one or more boxes for particular prizes. (So if you REALLY wanted a shot at winning the iPad, you could put all your tickets into that box. But if you lost all your chips at the tables, then you didn’t have anything for the drawings for those prizes. Your choice to gamble.) Also random drawings for employees to win gift cards throughout the night. Food was decent and lots of fun playing the table games.

    3. Multi-department-level during the work day, lunch potluck with a side competition of building the best mini-golf hole. Basically each department/team was asked to build a mini-golf hole, golf clubs and balls were provided. After lunch everyone was able to play through a dozen holes. Employee vote on best hole with a prize for the team that won. Decent participation with the potluck and everyone seemed to have fun playing mini-golf in the office.

    4. This week: department-level lunch potluck, and a few hours later company-level happy hour during work with appetizers and drinks. We’ll see how it goes.

  71. CheeseToastie*

    My work’s holiday lunch went okay until we were forced to forgo dessert in order to go back to the company’s boardroom so that management could give speeches complimenting the CEO and then shower her with gifts. It was awkward and a waste of an hour.

  72. Nervous Accountant*

    I know not everyone would like this but this is how we do our events and there’s always a huge turnout.
    FWIW I love our events and enjoy them a lot. I would be so bummed if we couldn’t have it.

    -Let us out fairly early (2-3 hours prior to quitting time)
    -nice venue, not super fancy or expensive (you can wear your regular work clothes)
    -open bar

    I don’t know food allergies, but re alcohol, but I’ve not drank alcohol and still had a great time.

    If someone doesn’t want to attend, they have to stay in the office until regular leaving time.

  73. irritable vowel*

    The suggestion to ask your staff if there are any dietary restrictions seems so simple, but for whatever reason so many people seem to think it’s a ridiculous burden and don’t do it. I used to organize events for a regional professional group and many attendees thanked us for asking about dietary restrictions (and then following up with with the caterer, and getting back to them if necessary) – I often heard “no one ever asks about this.” For those of us without dietary restrictions, it probably seems like we see this on every event invite ever, but apparently it’s not that common.

    It should go without saying, but perhaps it should be said – asking about dietary restrictions doesn’t necessarily commit you to providing something that every single person can eat. Some restrictions are not going to be able to be accommodated by the caterer, if you’re using one. For example, our caterer could not provide a peanut-free meal for someone because their kitchen was not peanut-free and there was the risk of contamination (peanut allergies being life-threatening in some cases, they were not willing to take that risk). The peanut-allergic attendee was totally understanding and just brought her own food to the event, as she said she does to most things. But she was thankful to have been asked!

    1. Tuesday Next*

      “The peanut-allergic attendee was totally understanding and just brought her own food to the event, as she said she does to most things. But she was thankful to have been asked!” Replace peanut-allergic with kosher and you have me. It *is* nice just to be asked.

    2. BananaRama*

      The one party my company threw, on a boat no less, had a catered buffet line. Anyone with a food allergy just spoke to the attendant and the chef would make a plate completely separate in the kitchen where they could control cross-contamination. By plate, I mean one of every dish offered on the buffet. I ended up having to share because I had four plates of food!

  74. Nox*

    See alot of these tips are hard in my line of business because we can’t afford to have people off the phones and PCI prohibits us from having parties with outsiders in the office because of data breach concerns (unless they are willing to sign the NDA)

    Bonuses are not possible, so that’s why we end up with a nice holiday party with refundable deposits. We get a decent turn out but it’s just frustrating to put in all this effort to end up being BMed for it. Based on the drama we had this year, I’m thinking next year we just will get stuck not doing anything and call it a year because the CEO isn’t happy with the negativity.

    1. Bagpuss*

      one of the things we’ve learned is that you can’t please everyone:- no matter what you do there will always be someone who is negative.

      This pat year we’ve opted to have several different events through the year, rather than one big christmas do – and have a social committee made up of staff members who decide when and what to do. SO far there’s been a bowling trip, a summer boat trip and the christmas meal (In previous years we’ve done an open bar and free taxis – this year, having spent some of the funds on the other events we paid for the meal and a welcome drink and people bought their own additional drinks.

      We’ve had good turn out for all of the events. One of the the things we’ve done is ensure that everyone knows well in advance what the events are, and what is and isn’t being paid for, and they are all also optional.

      In our own branch office we’re also having snacks and nibbles on Friday plus secret Santa (we drew names out of a hat so we each have a specific person to buy for) And again, the secret Santa was optional, and everyone gets to share the snacks and nibbles whether or not they chose to join in the secret santa.

  75. SenatorMeathooks*

    While I understand the logic behind making holiday parties during work hours, if you have it in the evening and non-mandatory, then you get an even better gauge of how well you’re putting together the event by attendance. In my old job, we had it after hours, but we have nice facility on work property. It was formal, we had an open bar and catered hors d’oeuvres, and either a piano player or a DJ. It was so popular but the sales reps flew in from several states away to attend. It was freaking sweet.

  76. AnonAndOn*

    Last year, two different temp jobs:

    I was at Temp Job 1 for their Thanksgiving pot luck and I was not required to provide anything but was allowed (and encouraged) to take a plate. There was a variety of great food and many items were labeled.

    At Temp Job 2 I was there during Christmas. They had an offsite holiday party that they all left around noon to go to while I had to stay behind. Some of them did that whiny and patronizing, “Aww…you’re going to be here by your lonesome!” mess but I was grateful to be left alone. That was an awful temp job full of loud, rude, and immature people, so them all being gone was a breath of fresh air.

  77. Where's the Le-Toose?*

    For a private sector job, my sister’s old work was pretty good. Rather than have a holiday party, they had a harvest moon festival or fall festival at a slow time in mid-October to early November timeframe. It was always on a Saturday at a large hotel. The office would pay for the meal, DJ, dance floor, and the space. The employees paid for their own drinks and would buy raffle tickets for prizes–the more money people spent, the better the prizes. Plus ones were included for free and additional guests were a nominal fee to cover the meal, something like $20. They always had a great turnout and if people didn’t feel like driving home, they could just get a room at the hotel on a group rate.

    As for me, I’ve been in the public sector since 2000, so no awesome holiday parties for me. And before that my private sector employers didn’t have enough money for holiday parties.

  78. Mrs. Fenris*

    My previous job did either a potluck or a restaurant meeting room with a white elephant gift exchange, and the level of fun directly corresponded with the overall morale in the office at that time. Some years it was pretty meh and one year it was kind of a downer. One year it rocked, simply because it had been such an exciting year. We had added a huge new service (this was a tiny company-it increased our employee number from about 12 to about 30) and it was off to a great start, and the holiday party was a ball simply because everyone was so happy.

  79. This Daydreamer*

    My workplace had a great party, and I think a lot of it was because we all like each other. No games, just dinner (we had to pay for the meal – non profit life) and Secret Santa. When we RSVP ‘ed we were told to name three things we liked in case we didn’t know the person who we were buying a gift for; since we have two offices that was really helpful. Afterwards we shared a massive sheet cake with the entire restaurant, including the staff.

    There wasn’t anything really special about it. It was just a low key dinner with a lot of laughter.

  80. samgarden*

    Man, our parties used to be amazing. Not ‘christmassy’ but more just a fancy shindig at the end of the year before break. It would be in an evening at a nice location, with nice booze and nice food and an endless oyster bar (not that i like oysters, but it’s a great idea), and spouses were invited. There would be a raffle, and a photobooth, and entertainment like fire twirlers. I’d look forward to my one opportunity a year to dress up fancy and hit the town on someone else’s dollar.
    Now it’s just an afternoon bbq in a park for employees only. It’s hot, I hate flies, and I don’t eat most of the food there. I no longer attend.

  81. BetterInGreen*

    Haha my company just had ours, and it was on a boat!
    That said, they had put up a poll with multiple possible venues / activities for the day, and majority vote was the boat option.
    Also they did it during the workday, supplied transportation to and from, and didn’t force staff to attend, so on balance, it was pretty good.

  82. Aerin*

    There were a lot of downsides to working at Disneyland, and most of the time it felt like the higher-ups didn’t remotely care about us on the front line. But hot damn did they throw an amazing holiday party. It ran for two nights (so people could staff one night and still attend as a guest on the other) and the entire park was open as normal. We were given a certain number of tickets for friends and family to attend, too. (I can’t remember if you were allowed to purchase more for a big family or if people in that situation just tried to get extra tickets from people who weren’t using theirs–probably the latter.) They ran the parade and the fireworks, and everyone got the higher discount that’s usually reserved for management/corporate. Even working it was a blast, because usual standards of conduct were relaxed, so you could sit, eat, or even go shop or ride something while still in costume if your lead gave the okay. Some of my best memories of that place were from the holiday party.

    My current job apparently throws a great holiday party, but I’ve never been. My first year I was still a contractor so tickets were way more expensive for us, and since then I’ve been working weekends, and I’ve got no desire to spend a night socializing and drinking and then clock in at 7am the next morning. Though I do appreciate that they hold it in January, both because it lessens scheduling conflicts and it makes it a little less obviously a Christmas thing.

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