Why Many Companies Are Ditching Their Holiday Parties This Year

December 10, 2018

Only 65% of companies are throwing a holiday party this year, the lowest number since 2009, according to a survey conducted by the outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Could this be a conspiracy of Scrooge, the Grinch, and Mr. Potter? Maybe, but it’s unlikely. “The number could be due to several factors, including potential liability following the #MeToo movement,” said Andrew Challenger, a vice-president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“More bad behavior occurs at company holiday parties than at any other time of year,” attorney Mark Kluger told the Society for Human Resource Management blog. “The combination of the holiday season, pent-up feelings about co-workers and, most importantly, alcohol often lead to uninhibited behavior ranging from sexual harassment to expressions of intolerance.”

And while this may make you think avoiding all this sounds like a great idea, don’t veto your holiday party just yet. You can easily address potential problems by making small course corrections. And, if done correctly, a festive company party can even build morale, reinforce your distinctive culture, and serve as a way to celebrate your employees and their biggest wins of the year. Here are six tips to make sure your party resounds with Ho! Ho! Ho! rather than Oh no! Oh no!

1. Reduce the focus on alcohol

The simplest way to remove the focus on alcohol is … to remove the alcohol. In fact, more than half (51.5%) of U.S. companies told Challenger, Gray & Christmas that they will not be serving alcohol this year.

If your company still believes that the holiday spirit should include some spirits, consider these tactics:

  • Use tickets or coupons to limit the number of drinks anyone can order.
  • Serve beer and wine, which take longer to consume than cocktails and have lower alcohol content.
  • Move your event to earlier in the day. People will (usually) drink less at lunch than at dinner. And if you’re having an evening party, consider starting it in the late afternoon and ending it earlier. Last call doesn’t have to be a late call.
  • Emphasize food. “Have a sit-down meal in a restaurant,” the New York Times says, “rather than a cocktail party.” If you have a caterer, aim for food that is both delicious and different. Innovative food can be a conversation starter and can get revelers to trade cocktails for canapés.

2. Shift the focus to an activity . . .

Consider making the centerpiece of your party an activity like bowling, ice-skating, or a cooking class.

For example, this year Mark Kluger’s law firm is having its holiday event at Stumpy’s Hatchet House where everyone will get the axe — to throw at targets. (There’s a reason this place is called Stumpy’s.)

Or how about inviting some adoptable puppies? Not only will they make people merry and bright, but they could be the perfect last-minute holiday gift and they guarantee some great Instagram moments. Even if you don’t have puppies (bah humbug!), you can still ensure memorable photos — by renting a photo booth. You can also create other photo ops by inviting Santa or decorating the corporate logo up for the holidays.

‘Tis also the season for community service. Perhaps your company or work team could volunteer at a soup kitchen, organize a coat drive, or collect toys for underprivileged kids. This kind of activity can elevate your corporate culture and do some mean team-building.

3. . . . or to some entertainment

You can enhance the festive feeling of your office party by adding some live music, even if that just means stealing the piano player from your local Nordstrom’s. And nothing says holiday magic like a polished magician. Other possibilities include hiring an improv troupe, a sketch artist, a comedian (fully vetted for appropriateness beforehand). Truly memorable? Try karaoke.

4. Make sure your employees feel appreciated

There are many ways you can use your holiday party to make sure your employees know how much they’re appreciated. The first thing is also the most basic: Don’t press-gang any of your team into working the party. This event is to thank them, not saddle them with one more project.

Second, you can tie end-of-the-year gifts or bonuses into your holiday event by handing them out earlier in the day. (Nothing quite says thank you like cash.) Or to spread some love across the whole event, give everyone a raffle ticket as they arrive and then hold drawings for prizes throughout the party.

Third, the CEO or team lead should address the gathering. The message doesn’t need to be long but it does need to be heartfelt. Call out a big win or two from the previous 12 months and thank everyone for their contributions. Cheers!

5. Plan the post-party: provide rides home and make the day-after fun

If your holiday party includes alcohol, make sure it also includes cab vouchers or car services for anyone who may have overindulged. If you can afford it, simply offer the ride service to everyone, sober or otherwise. As SHRM says: “Better buzz kill than roadkill.”

If your party runs into the evening, consider letting employees come in an hour later the next day. Maybe even provide them breakfast. Birchbox, the cosmetics subscription company, has held Pajama Day after its holiday party.

6. The nuclear (family) option

Finally, there is one nearly surefire tactic to defuse potentially embarrassing or inappropriate behavior: Invite the family.

“The first line of defense, instead of canceling the party, is making it family friendly,” Challenger says. “Have people bring in their spouses and their children and have it during the day.”

A holiday party should be something that everyone, including legal and HR, looks forward to. Add a little time and thought to your party budget and your event is certain to be joyful and triumphant.

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