If you’re the one tasked with planning this year’s work holiday shindig, this is not a task to be taken lightly. After all, you’ve got a full year to go until the next one, and everyone always remembers how awesome (or how terrible) the last big party was. It’s a lot of pressure! It's also a bit of a social and professional minefield, so we’ve got the tips to help you plan the party that will keep everyone smiling until next year’s.
Know your budget.
Some companies go all out for their holiday parties, renting big venues and setting up ritzy food. Other companies go for a more modest affair, having it in the office or opting for a cash bar. It’s important to know up front what kind of budget you’re working with—is it a hot wings budget or a caviar budget? And this may depend on what kind of year your company had. If it wasn’t a great year and this year’s party budget is more streamlined than years past, then the idea of hiring a huge venue might be unrealistic, and the chocolate fountain may have to wait for another occasion. The important thing to remember is that you can have a fun, well-planned party no matter how much money you’re working with. It’s just a matter of setting realistic expectations.
Pick the right time.
On TV and in movies, holiday parties all seem to be on Christmas Eve, or shortly before. In real life, the Dance of the Out of Office Messages can often start well before the holidays start. So to maximize your holiday party crowd, pick a date earlier in December. This has the benefit of catching people before they’re holiday cheer-ed out and also feels more inclusive for whatever winter holidays people happen to celebrate.
The timing on the day of the party is just as important—do you want to have it during work hours or is it more of an after-hours affair? More and more, companies are hosting their parties during the work day to make sure that employees can make it and don’t have conflicts. Plus it can be very difficult to book venues and catering on weekends during the holiday season, so having a party at, say, 3 p.m. on a Thursday or Friday might give you more options (and cost flexibility).
Send out invites as early as you can.
As soon as you’ve got a date, time, and place nailed down, send out the invite. Most company parties involve all employees, but if you’re working with a more select group (like a departmental holiday party), make sure you’re targeting your specific invite list as soon as you can. And be clear about who’s included on the invite. If it’s just employees, say so. If spouses or families are welcome, be clear about that as well.
Choose your team wisely.
Call it #HolidayPartySquadGoals. Make sure you have people lined up to help you, whether it’s backing you up on making venue or catering arrangements or acting as an extra pair of hands to set up on the day of. After all, you should get to enjoy the festivities too, and you don’t need the stress of trying to do everything perfectly all by yourself.
Make sure everyone’s clear on the party expectations and boundaries.
Never forget that this is, above all, a work party, and everyone should still be mindful of the professional setting. If there’s going to be alcohol flowing, send out a reminder about any alcohol policies—and maybe a few links to your local rideshare companies to help make sure people get home safely. If you want to limit things like drinking up front, consider doing a cash bar or offering drink tickets (limit 2) to make sure everyone’s enjoying themselves—but not too much—while celebrating with bosses and colleagues.
Come up with something fun to do.
Sure, “let’s eat, drink, and celebrate the end of the year” is a fine and time-honored holiday party activity. But consider having some fun or goofy activities if you’re going for a lighthearted or less formal party. Ugly holiday sweaters are still having a moment, so why not have a contest for the most cringe-inducing sweater? Or maybe go for a holiday cookie bake-off, letting people bring in their finest holiday treats. (It’s a win-win, because free cookies!)
Set aside some time for recognition.
Just about every workplace has someone who feels comfortable getting up in front of a crowd and giving a toast or quick, heartfelt speech, so this would be a good time to schedule someone to give some year-end remarks. A bit of employee appreciation goes a long way, and even if your company doesn’t do gifts or bonus checks, a few words about everyone’s hard work throughout the year is always a welcome addition to the festivities.
Whether your party will be at the Plaza or in the conference room, being prepared will help ensure that you maintain your sanity and that you and your colleagues have a great time being together and celebrating another productive year. Happy holidays, and happy planning!