‘Tis The Season To Make Holiday Parties Not Suck

There are two things that are fairly common themes during the Christmas season. First, is that people hate shopping. If I had a dollar for every person I heard complaining while wandering through the malls or department stores, I would have had enough money to actually do my Christmas shopping without single-handedly supporting MasterCard and Visa in a bumper year.

The second theme that I hear a lot is that people dread the annual company holiday party. There’s a lot of reasons for this. It is time out of an already busy time of year. Time is certainly at a premium from Thanksgiving to New Years. Christmas concerts at school, picking up kids from college, procrastinating the dreaded Christmas shopping.

officechristmas partyAnother reason may be that almost everyone has a story about a corporate Christmas party gone wrong (for themselves or a co-worker). One too many cups of egg nog and a close proximity to your boss or management team is a recipe for disaster. Better yet, a few Instagram pics of your boss after a couple too many cups of nog, doesn’t do much for your advancement opportunities.

A third reason may be that many office get togethers just suck. Everyone is on edge because of the above, and the catered deli sandwiches and machine made Christmas cookies don’t make people want to come running. Although I am a big fan of the bowls of Christmas wrapped Hershey Kisses on every table.

Over the past few years, I have had the absolute pleasure of attending some really great corporate holiday parties, and I have to be honest, I look forward to the shindig every year. My wife works for a large construction management firm. It is divided into a bunch of divisions, based on what kind of projects they do and where the business units are located. The local office that she works for has a really great model for the annual party.

The first year that we attended the company had just moved into new office space. They had an open house at the new office and then they had purchased some tickets for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s Christmas Pops Concert, a very popular event for the BPO. The following year, we had the party at off hours of the Buffalo Museum of Science. They set up stations in the main second floor hall. We had the run of the place and got to view all of the exhibits while eating underneath the fossilized skeleton of a triceratops. (That was a little disconcerting, eating a big roast beef sandwich under a large animal.) The next year we got to go to Shea’s Buffalo and see “White Christmas”, followed by a meal at one of the restaurants in theater district. A couple of years ago we had a house party at the VPs house. It was a lot of fun too. This year, the day began with a family ice skating event in the very cool village of East Aurora, followed by a meal in the old Power House on the Roycroft campus. We forewent the ice-skating on accounta of the mix of being clumsy and gravity actually working, but we spent the time shopping in historic East Aurora. We don’t go there near enough.

A long time ago, I worked for my uncle at his small hardware store. Every year for Thanksgiving he bought us all a large Turkey.

I know what you are saying. “We can’t afford parties like that”. That is probably true for a lot of businesses. The point isn’t that you have to spend a lot of money to make a holiday party great. The point is that you can make a party great by: doing something different every year, or adding unexpected elements, or finding little gifts to give your employees that might make the party something to look forward to. Here’s some inexpensive ideas for spicing up your holiday party.

1. Do something to make your employees smarter. Bring in a speaker, go to an inexpensive local museum, give them a copy of a new book from a local author. In all of those things you might be able to negotiate a cheaper price because of the number of people you are bringing with you or buying for.

2. Make the food and/or drink special. Less good food is better than more crappy stuff. I know I’d rather have a fresh, hot bowl of someone’s grandma’s chili recipe over a meal that was prepared someplace else and then rewarmed. Have a Christmas cookie decorating contest or set up a hot chocolate bar with all sorts of toppings. Maybe have a specialty cocktail made for the event. Invite a local winery or microbrewery to do a wine/beer tasting or have a local restaurant do a tasting of their specialty foods. (Living in Buffalo, a wing tasting might be a cool event.)

3. Do something different every year. That creates some anticipation, AND it appeals to the different people who make up your organization. Some people may like musicals, some may like history, some may like science. (I like all three, so these parties have been awesome for me.)

4. Think about events that can include family. This year’s event began with ice skating for the family and ended with a small buffet that included chicken fingers for the kids. (I saw some adults sneaking the fingers too). It is really great for your business to show your employees that their families are important too.

5. Add a component of charity or community service to your event. You could have a small food drive or mitten gathering at your event, and donate those to a local food pantry or shelter. Have fun and help those who are in need. Win/win.

gingerbread contestYou absolutely do not have to spend a lot of money to make fun events that accomplish the most important purpose of a holiday party: showing your employees that you appreciate them and thanking them for their hard work. If you really want a successful business, create a culture of appreciation year-round and this will just be one more event that supports that.

Happy holidays.