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The Complete Guide to Holiday Parties

Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.

Holiday parties can be fun and valuable events for employees, but getting them right takes effort.

Our guide will cover why holiday parties are important, quick tips on how to improve them, and some long-term strategies to take them to the next level.

Why Holiday Parties Are So Important

Holiday parties are important for many reasons, and companies that do them well stand to benefit in the future. 

For a start, holiday parties can represent a company’s culture in a playful and rewarding way. A laid-back company culture would naturally suit a more relaxed event, while companies with a more formal culture might opt for a high-class party.

One benefit is that holiday parties are a great place to change the culture of a company. While this won’t be immediate, it can signal to employees there’s been a positive change and that there’s something to look forward to in the future.

Holiday parties can be events that increase connections between people, deepen bonds, unite subcultures, offer recognition, boost morale and employee retention, foster a sense of inclusion, and strengthen diversity.

Employees also have the chance to interact with upper management at these parties, making them a perfect time to break down barriers and help staff at different levels of the company get to know each other better.

A holiday party is an excellent way of thanking a team and starts them off for the new year refreshed and ready to win. Compare that to a team who can’t stand each other, feel underappreciated, and dread starting the new year together.

Overall, the benefits of holiday parties are numerous: you’ll have a team that works together better, have a greater sense of community, feel valued, and have a renewed sense of purpose. What does this mean for your business? When people feel more connected and share a common bond, their productivity improves, so your company’s profits do too.

Some of the best results of holiday parties, such as increased teamwork and deepened bonds, will take time to show, but patience here is key. The result is a company that’s a better place to work at, with a team more focused and driven than before.

With the recent pandemic, holiday parties haven’t been at the top of most agendas, but it’s fair to say that some employees enjoy them, and they do bring company benefits when done right.

For example, one study carried out by a leading UK retailer found that 74% of employees are motivated to work harder due to parties and celebrations during the festive period. 39% of employees believe holiday parties directly enhanced their productivity levels and improved teamwork and communication. The most surprising part? Only 36% of businesses offered a holiday party—that’s untapped potential.

It will take time for the world to get back to normal, but it’s clear holiday parties are important, and you shouldn’t ignore them.

Quick Tips to Improve Holiday Parties Today

Here are some quick tips to improve your holiday parties right now.

Make It Fun and Welcoming

While it may sound obvious, no one wants to attend a holiday party that feels flat, and yet it happens time and time again. You need to forget about profits and spreadsheets and bring out the fun side of the event straight away.

Remember that some employees fear going to holiday parties for various reasons, from social awkwardness and anxiety to feeling like you’re forcing them to socialize without much in the way of tangible reward. Holiday parties need to feel like events workers wouldn’t want to miss rather than something they’d rather skip.

These are significant barriers to overcome and will be even more complex in a post-pandemic world accustomed to Zoom parties. You need to make a holiday party entertaining, inviting, and wholesome.

To do this, think about what the entertainment at the event will be. Will you be hiring a DJ for the event? Perhaps you’ll go the whole way and hire a live band? The latter may sound overblown, and you’ll need to factor in your budget, but can you imagine what such an event would mean to your employees?

It says you’re not afraid to treat them and shows how much you value them. The benefits down the line are likely to be returned, certainly if such a memorable event happens.

Apart from the music, there are other fun little things you can focus on that don’t have to break the bank. Photo booths are always popular, along with party games and scavenger hunts. For extra boldness, karaoke is sure to be unforgettable. Above all, don’t create a negative culture that forces people to get involved if they’re feeling uncomfortable—nobody wins with that approach.

Be creative and stay away from the idea of something like “a party in the office,” too. Some companies feel doing the bare minimum will suffice, but that’s not a good look, especially if the business is doing well. It gives off an impression that you don’t really appreciate your staff’s hard work and/or don’t want to share the fruit of that labor with them. 

Be generous and considerate to your staff, and your holiday party is sure to be a hit.

Takeaways: Focus on fun, and think about your staff first and foremost, don’t be afraid to be bold, be considerate of mental health, and create a positive culture.

Send Out Invitations

Sending out invitations to everyone in your company is essential. Most importantly, you need to ensure this happens well in advance of the event.

There are instances of companies telling their employees about their holiday party four weeks before the occasion—this is not going to work for many people and will help diminish your participants before it’s even happened.

Be sure to distribute invitations in a format that everyone feels comfortable with and at least a couple of months before the party itself.

It helps to have a good distribution platform to do this, preferably a dedicated HR system that can bulk email a large database of employees with ease and remind them of the event regularly. We recommend a platform like BambooHR for this.

BambooHR is an HR software tool that made our top picks list for being the best for most companies. It features an extensive employee database, automated email reminders to keep your team updated, and more. You can get a free quote for the pricing, and a free trial is available.

Sending out invitations in advance is a good way of knowing how many people plan to attend the event and helps you move forward with it.

Takeaways: Distribute invitations, do so in advance, use a good HR system to remind employees of the event. 

Think About Your Budget

Holiday parties can cost a lot of money, certainly if you want to go all out for your staff. The truth is: your available budget for events will depend on how well the company is doing overall.

Budgets become tighter in some years more than others, but if you’ve got the money for an unforgettable holiday party, you shouldn’t hesitate. Not least because your employees are smarter than you think, and they’ll know the look of a miser even if they don’t directly say so. If they feel you’re tight-fisted around the festive season, you can expect productivity, retention, and morale to fall.

Think realistically about how much you could spend on the holiday party and what’s the most achievable sort of event you could organize.

An at-the-office party will rarely be popular unless it’s done right, but sometimes it might be all you can afford. Keep in mind that employees today tend to prefer a bonus over a work party anyway, and it might not always be the best idea to hold one every single year.

You’ll need to think about your budget for all areas: the venue, transportation, food, alcohol, gifts, and entertainment. Remember that it’s standard for staff to bring a plus one, so factor that in as well.

What can your budget afford, and is holding a holiday party the most sensible thing you could do for staff this year? Think carefully about this before making a move.

Takeaways: Be wary of your budget, decide the best way to spend it during the festive season, factor in everything from the venue to plus ones.

Long-Term Strategies for Holiday Parties

Here are some long-term strategies for holiday parties to take things to the next level.

Start Now, Not Later

You shouldn’t plan holiday parties at the last minute. Ideally, you need to be thinking about them from August of that year onwards. Yes, really, you’ll need all the time you can get to plan the event.

The best approach here is to give chunks of your time throughout the year to organize the party. Specifically, dedicate regularly scheduled time to plan the event every week, or at the very least every two weeks.

Each week will focus on a different part of the event, and it’s best to systematize this. For instance, some sessions could focus on organizing the venue, while others focus on sorting out the entertainment or food.

Keep track of variables such as venues and pricing and put them in a spreadsheet to compare your options over time. Planning holiday parties is a long-term process, not a race, so adjust as you go, and don’t be scared to scrap ideas if they’re not practical.

Starting the process earlier may feel like you’ll have a considerable advantage, but trust us, it soon catches up, and you’ll be grateful for the extra time.

Takeaways: Start as early as August, dedicate and schedule time every week to planning, track variables in spreadsheets.

Get Feedback From Employees

Getting feedback from employees about last year’s holiday party can be revelatory. If you want to know what works and what doesn’t, who better to ask than your staff?

Not everything you hear will be music to your ears, which is why the practice is uncommon and, ultimately, why holiday parties rarely excite employees. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, right? Wrong.

Companies that hope for the best and rush ahead with holiday parties end up doing more harm than good, with employees losing morale or confidence and, in some cases, even leaving the company as a result. Nobody wants that.

Start by creating an anonymous questionnaire to get some information from your staff. Don’t use vague questions either; ask them directly about things like the venue, the food, and how the event went for them. You’ll find out all sorts of things and get a good idea of what they want to see in a future event.

Questionnaire responses are also the time to note serious problems staff may have had in the past, such as arguments and unwelcome sexual advances. Making the questionnaire anonymous will give people the confidence to speak their minds on various issues, so be sure to do that and then use the answers wisely.

Takeaways: Speak to your staff, create an anonymous questionnaire, take note of serious problems and address them, use the answers to plan your event.

Form a Committee

Forming a committee might seem like extra work for a holiday party, but it’s a long-term move that can be invaluable. A committee dedicated to your holiday party will bring new ideas to the table and fresh perspectives.

To do this, start by inviting employees to join the newly set up committee or have them nominate members instead. The sense of ownership this gives your staff goes a long way and makes them a crucial part of the process.

Preferably, have a varied group of people as part of the committee to ensure you get the full range of opinions. From there, you can give them a budget to work with and inform them of the approval process. Think about what type of approval is necessary and how each stage works. When should staff contact you?

Be sure to encourage employees as much as possible, emphasize this is an event for them, and show that you’re willing to be flexible to make it happen. This idea only works if you allow them to be independent, so don’t control every aspect and keep authoritarianism firmly at bay.

For the long-term, be sure to rotate your committee members to keep new ideas coming each year.

Takeaways: Set up a committee directly or via nomination, encourage staff, emphasize independence, and rotate members to keep things fresh.

Next Steps

Be sure to check out our other guides to keep your company in great shape: 

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