Make merry, but steer clear of these company holiday party pitfalls

Smartt Principles

Nicole Serres is an author and president of Star Staffing, based in Petaluma.

Read her previous columns.

The holiday season gives us a cornucopia of reasons to celebrate.

But even leaders and HR professionals with the most joyful of intentions can make mistakes when it comes to throwing a holiday party in 2020.

Here are tips for ensuring your holiday party stays off the “naughty” list.

Enjoy these holiday party dos and don’ts, and also check out these Star Staffing articles: “Everything you need to know about holiday bonuses” and “Simple and creative ways to show gratitude to your employees.”

Make inclusivity and team building the goal

Often, a “holiday party,” can simply come off as a disguised Christmas party — especially, if your office celebrates with a decorated tree with gifts underneath.

This does not mean throw away your tree.

After all, Christmas is a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon, as well as a religious holiday. It does mean that any celebrations must take an inclusive approach that recognizes all employees from any variety of faiths, backgrounds, and spiritualities.

Choose decorations carefully and consider adding educational cards to explain traditions.

Consider showing equal representation, or adding celebrations, for other holidays like Hanukkah (Dec. 10–18), Kwanzaa (Dec. 26), and the Lunar New Year (begins on the new moon between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20).

It is a strength to have employees from a variety of backgrounds, faiths and traditions. We must be compassionate towards this and recognize that people celebrate special days at different times. Which brings us to our next point.

Make it voluntary

If you are hosting a holiday party this year, don’t make it mandatory. Some people, especially with COVID, or for personal reasons will not feel comfortable attending.

Make it clear that attendance is optional and remain deeply supportive of all employees regardless of their decision.

Throw a fun virtual holiday party!

If large segments of your employees are working remotely, consider throwing a virtual holiday party.

Here are some fun virtual holiday party activities:

  • Hold an Ugly Sweater Contest with a prize!
  • Hold a Gingerbread Mouse Making Contest - Send a gingerbread house kit to each employee.
  • Play virtual holiday Bingo.
  • Choose a winter party cocktail. Make sure to have a mocktail option too!

Provide an inclusive variety of food

If you are opting for a safe, in-person party, consider polling your employees for their food preferences so your holiday snacks can be inclusive for everyone. Consider adding a food subsidy for employees you may not be able to accommodate.

Here is a quick multiple-choice poll you can send to employees and keep track of for future use:

  • Vegetarian
  • Vegan
  • Gluten-free
  • Dairy-free

Re-share your Code of Conduct and get managers on board

Even at virtual holiday celebrations, if alcohol is in the mix it can open the door for inappropriate behavior. Remind employees in advance that although this is indeed a joyful celebration, they are still at work.

Getting managers on board to champion this to their team cements this idea of connecting with teammates in a healthy way.

Do not make it about business

This party should be about team building, gratitude, and rewarding hard work for the year. A short, warm-hearted speech from a leader is welcome. A deep dive into OKRs or revenue numbers is not.

Send holiday gift boxes to employees

Nicole Smartt Serres
Nicole Smartt Serres

Include a personalized coffee mug, your company’s branded socks or hoodie, an influential life and business book, a family board game, and (of course) some sweet treats!

This is about celebrating and recognizing your employees and their efforts. We are in a year like no other and your employees continue to work through a pandemic for you. This holiday season, be extra mindful about being inclusive, keeping them safe, and having a warm and connecting holiday party.

Smartt Principles

Nicole Serres is an author and president of Star Staffing, based in Petaluma.

Read her previous columns.

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