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HR Rebecca’s 10 Tips to Throw the Best Year-End Party


In my past life as an HR consultant, I’ve been called in to advise and assist clients on a number of "holiday-party-gone awry" situations, the kind that create an aftermath of months of employee gossip and that cause significant concerns for the employers in question.

I remember a senior level manager, who had been served a bit too much, deciding to host an impromptu “roast” of her employees in front of the entire company, which included less-than-flattering comments about her employees and their personal appearance.  In the ensuing months, this night of antics exploded into a full-blown workplace bullying investigation.

Then, there was the Sales Manager who “made it rain” on his employees, using a specially designed “gun” intended to shower employees with dollar bills - ostensibly their holiday “bonus.” Several employees took offense to this method of delivery, finding it both demeaning and inappropriate.

You may be thinking, “this would never happen at my company,” but it’s important to note that alcohol coupled with the pressure of socializing with your co-workers and their dates can bring out all kinds of interesting shenanigans.

So what can you do to make sure you throw the best year-end party for your company?  Check out HR Rebecca’s ten tips below to get started!

Throw one

I wholly support year-end parties. They’re a great way to show your employees that you appreciate them and their year of contributions. According to a 2016 Forbes article, 63 percent of U.S. employees aren’t fully engaged in their work.  But when done correctly, year-end parties foster a greater sense of camaraderie, team-building, and bonding - which leads to greater engagement of individual employees and teams, overall!  So if you have it in your budget to host even a modest get-together, do it!  Make the year-end party a meaningful celebration of all the accomplishments you’ve achieved together as a team over the last year.

Use inclusive language - call it a “year-end” or “holiday” party

Please call it a “year-end,” or in general, “holiday” party. This may seem like simple advice, but many employers are still inviting their employees to “Christmas” parties, which inadvertently exclude all those employees who do not celebrate that holiday. There are more than a dozen different religious or cultural holidays in December alone!  By using inclusive terminology, you ensure that everyone feels a part of the celebration.

Control the booze situation

Okay, let’s talk booze. If you are serving alcohol, it’s important to note there will be some inherent liability. That doesn’t mean I’m advocating for dry celebrations - just cautious imbibing! If the company sponsors alcoholic beverages, it’s incredibly important to take a few preemptive steps:

  • Have a licensed bartender. This person is both obligated to ensure no one is over-served and trained on how to handle those situations. Liability increases dramatically if a manager or supervisor is assigned bartending duty.
  • Limit how much alcohol the company provides - I’m always a fan of drink tickets! By limiting drinks to one or two per person, you are showing a good-faith effort to control the amount of alcohol consumption. Be sure to provide at least some snacks (although a full meal is preferable) to help balance out your employees’ alcohol consumption.
  • Arrange for a ride-share, shuttle, or taxi service. A great way to expose your organization to risk is to serve employees booze and then see them get behind the wheel of their cars. Don’t do that. If you can’t afford to see your employees home safely, you can’t afford to serve alcohol. Period. No exceptions.

Account for your employees’ dietary restrictions

As if planning to serve alcohol weren’t complex enough, now it’s time to navigate dietary restrictions. You will likely have employees with various dietary restrictions: those who have specific religious restrictions, are vegetarian or vegan, gluten-free, or have other dietary needs. It’s important to make sure the menu includes items they can enjoy - If possible, make it a menu that incorporates several items to choose from. By ignoring dietary restrictions or refusing to accommodate them, you are sending a message to the employee that you don’t care about their needs. That’s the last thing you want at a celebration of a year’s worth of employee effort.

Define the dress code

Remember that you aren’t only going to the party as a guest there to have a good time; you are going as a representative of your organization. Be polished, festive, and work appropriate - and make sure your employees know to do the same.  I hate to be a downer here, but I have seen too many ill-advised “outfits” at holiday parties become the subject of water-cooler gossip for weeks to come. It’s unfair and unfortunate, but it happens. And you don’t have time for that - you have a personal brand to protect. So make sure everyone in your company is clear on the acceptable dress code for your function - and be ready to clarify it if your employees have questions!

Encourage respectful social media use

Note: you should already have a Social Media Policy in place, as well as an employee’s written consent to take their photograph before the holiday party even begins - this should be a part of your new-hire process. But aside from that, encourage employees to follow general friend-code here: make sure you aren’t posting unflattering pictures of your coworkers on social media if at all possible. Try not to post pictures you wouldn’t want to be posted of yourself.

Understand that you have no control over your employees’ plus 1s (if you allow them)

I hope you trust your employees to bring guests who will behave appropriately at the event. But understand, if you allow guests, you should absolutely not specify or try to control who ‘qualifies’ as a guest. Be prepared for employees to bring not only spouses and significant others, but friends, acquaintances, and possibly the person they just met on Tinder. Attempting to dictate who can and cannot attend as a guest can quickly rise to claims of unfair treatment, or worse. You can, however, specify that they bring just one guest.

Include everyone, especially those without a plus 1

Find employees who may have come solo, or who are standing off to themselves, and try to engage them in the festivities. I personally think it’s my duty as an HR Director to be sure everyone feels included, and that every employee knows how much they matter to the company.

Plan fun activities

Certainly, there should be time for your employees to mingle and talk amongst themselves.  But if you leave employees to just that, inevitably, conversations will revert to “talking shop,” and your holiday party will become a fancy meeting. We want employees to have a good time and get their minds off work for one evening! Plan to have some fun activities, like a photo booth with props, recognition of key contributors or events, team videos, games, and so on. Just be sure your planned activities are inclusive to all employees and remain office-appropriate in nature.

Remember - a year-end party is still a company event

Again, remember this is still a company event and you are still a company ambassador. As such, it’s important to have a good time. However, it’s just as important to remain professional. Treat this as a work function and go in with that mindset.

Can’t get enough of year-end party talk?  Throwing the year-end party at your company this season?  Listen to our Viventium Voices podcast on year-end parties, starring guest host HR Rebecca, for more on this topic!

Rebecca McCormick is our HR Director, and she is passionate about creating remarkable experiences for our employees. Prior to joining Viventium, she served in a variety of HR Management positions and was a Senior HR Consultant practicing in all 50 states. She holds an SPHR certification and an SHRM-CP certification. Rebecca’s mission is to help us Live Human Capital Management. 

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