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Make Your Holiday Party a Smashing, but Safe, Success

November 26, 2019

When making decisions about your company’s annual holiday party, it’s useful to know what other employers are doing. An annual survey conducted by outplacement firm Challenger Gray asks companies for an overview of their holiday party plans. Typical results show that: 

  • At least two-thirds of employers plan to put on a party, and sometimes the figure is closer to three-quarters of those surveyed.

  • The latest survey shows that about one-third of those who will host a party this year expect to spend more than last year, and

  • About half invite only employees to the fest, and the other half encourage employees to bring a spouse or other guest.

How will your festivities measure up against other companies in your industry? You don’t want to unnecessarily expose your company to a host of liability issues or break the bank — but you also don’t want to be a Scrooge this holiday season. Here are some issues to consider when planning your seasonal event. 

Food, Beverages, Timing and More

A hot issue for many party hosts is whether to serve alcoholic drinks. Survey results indicate that about half of employers do provide alcohol during the annual holiday party.

The split is also generally 50/50 as to whether to have the event during or near the end of the workday vs. in the evening or on the weekend. Usually only around one-third of employers stage the party on company premises. 

When you add it all up, Challenger Gray’s survey suggests that other than not having a party at all, or having one at the office, the decisions you make on the other basic options won’t place you in a small minority. So, you can’t simply go with the crowd when deciding how large to make the party, and whether to make alcohol available. The crowd is split in two directions. 

Important: If you plan to serve alcohol, there are several ways to go about it. First, be sure to offer plenty of nonalcoholic alternatives for those who don’t imbibe. Those who don’t drink alcohol shouldn’t be made to feel like second-class citizens.

Options for serving alcoholic drinks range from offering only beer and wine and making guests pay for their drinks, to an open bar featuring liquor as well as less potent beverages. A middle ground is to give guests tickets for one or two drinks and have them pay for more.

Make It Special

However you handle the alcohol decision, remember that the purpose behind having a holiday party is for employees to build a spirit of community and gratitude towards the company. For that to happen, the party will need to be special.

If you keep it too low-key and skimp on the food, the whole exercise could be pointless. On the other hand, if you make it too extravagant, some employees might be thinking to themselves, “I’d rather have a bonus.”

There’s more to planning a party than picking a menu. Here’s a list of pointers to guide you: 

  • Create a committee of a diverse group of employees to help plan the event.

  • Be sensitive about how some employees might feel if the party is built around a religious or cultural theme that’s alien to them.

  • Reassure employees that the event is for fun, and attendance isn’t obligatory.

  • While long speeches by executives generally aren’t welcomed on these occasions, the party is still a good opportunity for conveying an upbeat message, as well as highlighting and celebrating significant individual or team achievements.

  • Be sensitive to shy employees or others who are awkward at parties by intentionally making them feel as comfortable as possible.

  • Without indulging in social micromanagement, encourage employees to branch out and interact with others who they may not know well. 

Hazard Reduction 

Holiday parties inevitably pose certain hazards, particularly when alcohol is available and consumed liberally. Keep in mind that the company might be held liable if, for example, an intoxicated employee causes a serious automobile accident after leaving the party. (Tip: Close the bar well before the party’s over.) Check with your insurance broker to get a clear understanding of what kinds of party-related liabilities it covers. 

Too much alcohol can also result in various forms of bad behavior that should be nipped in the bud, if possible. Those include sexual harassment and indiscreet personal comments about other employees or sensitive company matters. 

One approach to preventing them is to issue a firm but diplomatic statement accompanying the party invitation or announcement that the same expectations of employee behavior on the job apply to company social occasions. Appointing some discrete and informal “chaperones” to keep an eye out for potential trouble spots could also be a prudent preventive measure.


Ultimately you can’t guarantee an incident-free party. While trying to prevent problems, also remember that a holiday party is supposed to be a festive occasion. Don’t get so wrapped up in details that you forget to have some fun. 

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