It’s the holiday season again, and it’s time for the annual company party. Some people frown upon the religious tones of calling it a Christmas party. However, Christmas is celebrated all over the world and it comes but once a year.  So my view, whether it’s a Christmas, New Year, or Year-End Party, your company should be having one and it is a perfect chance to let your hair down and celebrate!

I believe that the value of corporate or office Christmas parties is misunderstood or misjudged.  I found that many companies are ditching their holiday parties this year. So, I decided to investigate and come up with some suggestions to help you make up your mind on the matter.

First, let’s consider the stats.

  • According to a recent survey, only 36% of professionals feel company holiday parties are fun. This means of course that 64% don’t… and 35% actually give them a negative “thumbs-down.” Simply put, in very rough numbers about one-third of employees like holiday parties, one-third are indifferent, and one-third don’t like them at all.
  • Another American survey in 2018 reported that 65% of employers planned to host an office holiday party for employees. This is the lowest number since 2009 when 62% of companies planned to hold office holiday parties. Based on this annual survey on holiday party plans, conducted amongst human resources representatives across the country, nearly 27% of companies reported they never hold company parties, the highest since the survey in 2004. In 2009, when 38% of companies reported that they would not hold office holiday parties, 15% of companies said they never hold office holiday parties, and 23% said that they were not holding an office party that year.

Some people draw the line here:

  • Employees conclude: they can be fun, sure, but many employees in their heart of hearts see them as an annoying, time-consuming obligation in a season when time is at a premium. 
  • Employers point out that Office parties can be expensive, energy-consuming, and scary (in the age of #MeToo) and potentially make them as the employers liable for employee drinking or injury. A CEO stated, “More bad behaviour occurs at company holiday parties than at any other time of year. The combination of the holiday season, pent-up feelings about co-workers and, most importantly, alcohol often lead to uninhibited behaviour ranging from sexual harassment to expressions of intolerance.”

I have to agree – as a veteran of a long career’s worth of holiday parties, that the above statements sound about right to me.  However, don’t veto your holiday party just yet.  First, answer the following questions:  What is the purpose of the Christmas party? To have fun and bond with the staff? The anniversary of Christ’s birth legitimises another special celebration – the closing of one chapter and the opening of another.

Such celebrations occur in all societies. Their function is to reinforce important beliefs. The same is true in a company. Although I cannot prove it, I sense that greater social cohesion should improve corporate performance.

However, some Christmas parties fail.  Why?  There are two basic reasons. First, whereas religious celebrations have a purpose and time-tested rituals, corporate parties often lack both. Second, those in charge of the company do not realize that celebrations are about leadership.  Without leadership, the celebration seems pointless. If we are to bond, we need a purpose. That is the CEO’s function. If you want to avoid embarrassment this year, focus your CEO’s attention on the following suggestions:

  • First, your top management must realize that his or her role as a leader is vital and this should be one of the most important days of his or her year. In short, he or she has a captive and receptive audience.  No serious leader would miss this opportunity for a reaffirmation of commitment to the company.  So your CEO needs to understand he or she is on show.  He or she must also realize that genuine, well-considered recognition is one thing employees can never get enough of.  And this party is an excellent natural opportunity to dispense some.  Doing so sets the right tone for the gathering.  Leadership will seldom go wrong with an attitude of gratitude.  Lastly, a further function is to communicate the strategy for the company’s new beginning. 
  •  Second, the CEO should ensure the celebration has structure. The different backgrounds and interests of employees mean they will not cohere but will drift into natural subgroups. Only one fact binds them: they are employed by the same company. Of itself, this is not a basis for solidarity. For this reason, the CEO’s prime function is to give the Christmas party meaning. Unlike other get-togethers, the office Christmas party has a loose structure derived from past celebrations. One can assume that the employees and the employer are in agreement on the reasons as to why they loathe Christmas parties. It is recommended that the CEO ask for input.  As with so much in management, success depends on listening. CEOs should just listen to what their employees have to say about their desired holiday party experience. The CEO should consider forming a coordinating committee which represent both management and employees.  The committee could come up with new innovative ideas to celebrate the holidays in a way that does not include a traditional office holiday party.  The emphasis in these alternatives could be on low-cost activities that are still fun and help to build employee morale and positive spirits.
  •  Thirdly, without appropriate HR policies and procedures, behaviour at office Christmas parties can have major repercussions. Under health and safety laws, employers have a responsibility for their staff’s actions, even outside of the normal working environment and hours.  This may call for a memo to all employees reminding them that unacceptable behaviour and improper conduct will not be accepted.  Any such behaviour will be treated as a serious disciplinary matter.

In conclusion:

With increased efficiencies and financial cutbacks high on many company’s agendas, it’s tempting to think that a Christmas party is one luxury you can do without. But this would be a short-sighted approach that might well backfire in the longer term.  However, if you treat your employees well now, they will be motivated to help your business flourish, and you will be reaping the rewards. Maybe a better question to ask is whether your business can afford not to have a Christmas bash?

Above all else, Christmas is an excellent time to say “thank you” to your team for all their hard work and dedication over the past year.  What better way to do this than by throwing a party, especially in the run-up to Christmas when it will be pretty much expected anyway?  If money is an issue, there are many ways to organise a festive event on a budget.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!