While holiday parties are meant to allow employees to mingle and let loose in ways they can’t do in the office, they can be challenging to plan and ensure that everyone has a wonderful time. A holiday party should be inclusive, entertaining, and rewarding for everyone involved. The onus often falls on the HR team or small business owners to make the magic happen.
Are you preparing to host a company holiday party? This guide offers tips and tools to keep it fun and light-hearted while keeping employees safe and happy.
What is a Holiday Party?
A holiday party is a celebration for the company’s staff. It has the power to build a strong sense of community among team members. An end-of-year party is also the perfect time to recognize each person’s hard work and dedication to the company. Most holiday parties feature refreshments, games or activities, and some form of entertainment, like music.
The Basics of a Holiday Party
Holiday parties have a few necessary components. Follow these steps to capture the basics:
#1. Determine a Budget
Before any planning begins, you should have a budget in mind for your party. Start with a base budget that your company feels comfortable spending. This budget might be adjustable later if you decide to ask employees to contribute to refreshments, ticket costs, or anything else. When creating your budget, be sure to include the cost of:
- Food and drinks
- The venue
- Recognition awards
- Caterers, entertainers, photographers, and other hired services
- Event planning, if outsourced
- Hourly employee salaries, if the holiday party is mandatory
To stick to your budget, try to save money where possible. For instance, you might ask your employees if they have connections to entertainers or photographers to get a discounted rate. Or, have everyone bring a potluck meal rather than splurge on catering costs if that fits with your company culture.
Just remember, holiday parties are not necessarily mandatory (unless you make them so), and if you ask for assistance with costs or food, you may have employees elect not to come.
#2. Get a Headcount
Get a tentative count for the number of people who plan to attend if you’re hosting an optional holiday party. It can be challenging to get an accurate number without a set date, but even a ballpark estimate will help you with the following stages of planning.
Use SurveyMonkey to create a free survey after signing up for a basic account. Designate fields for the employee’s name and a yes or no response to whether they plan to attend. Have a few dates in mind or a range of dates, and include them on the survey to give each respondent a better idea of timing. Set a deadline of 48 hours to complete the survey so that you can get started with the next planning phase.
#3. Pick a Theme
Your theme can help you set the tone for the rest of the holiday party, so it’s a good idea to get this set as soon as possible before you begin planning. Once you have a theme, you can bring it into the decorations, food, entertainment, and awards. Brainstorm some ideas and ask for suggestions from team members. Hold a quick meeting to discuss everyone’s ideas and narrow down your options.
Choosing a theme for your holiday party can be tricky, as it’s vital to remain inclusive. Therefore, it’s usually best to steer clear of celebrating any specific holiday and instead choose a theme that celebrates the time of the year. “Winter Wonderland” or “Ugly Sweater” might be more appropriate choices that everyone can have fun with.
#4. Set a Date
A holiday party should have a date and time that works for as many people as possible. However, it’s virtually impossible to accommodate everyone, so you should instead focus on making it an accessible date for most.
To do this, start with a few dates and times outside of regular business hours you think will work. Send out a company email or Google Form link asking for employee preferences. Once you set a date, send out email invitations at least one month ahead of time. Then, consider sending reminder emails weekly leading up to the event.
If you’re scheduling the party on a business day, be sure to set a time that gives each employee ample time to get home from work, wind down, and get ready for the party. Allow for 3-4 hours, if possible, after the close of business. Let your employees leave early to accommodate that if needed.
#5. Choose a Venue
Your theme and date will influence the venue you choose. Some venues are better for upbeat parties, while others work well for low-key, relaxing events. When selecting a venue, make sure you look for one that matches the overall atmosphere you’d like to have for your party. Other important considerations include:
- Availability on your chosen date
- Number of attendees and venue size
- Venue perks, like valet parking and included entertainment
- The location of the venue compared to the locations of employees
- Venue policies, like its policy on alcohol and using other vendors
- How far in advance you need to book the venue
- If the cost fits within your budget
Your employees might have suggestions of venues they’ve used in the past that would work for the company holiday party, so be sure to ask for opinions.
#6. Plan Food and Drinks
Use your headcount to determine how much food and beverages you’ll need. If you’re hiring a caterer, you can give an estimate of the number of attendees. The caterer can then decide how much to make based on your range.
Also, ensure you know about any food allergies, restrictions, and preferences of your employees before you meet with a caterer. Some employees might follow strict vegan diets, while others may have peanut or soy allergies. This is an excellent question to include on the headcount survey. It’s necessary to make sure all employees have options, even if you need to ask the caterer for a few special meals.
#7. Consider Entertainment
Live entertainment isn’t always necessary at company holiday parties, but some companies choose to splurge on it. Even if you decide it’s not right for yours, you’ll still need some form of entertainment to keep guests happy. This could be in the form of music, games, or a company slideshow. Your entertainment should match the overall vibe of the party, from upbeat to more casual or understated.
A good way to make your coworkers feel included is to ask if anyone has a talent or form of entertainment they’d like to share. It could be their favorite curated playlist or a comedy act they wrote. Sharing their talent should be entirely optional with no pressure on the person to perform. You want the party to be fun for your employees, not to feel like more work.
3 Tools to Improve Holiday Parties
In addition to providing HR software for your team, consider adding one or more of the following tools to your toolkit. They’re excellent options for helping your HR team—or yourself—plan a successful holiday party.
Trello is a planning and organization tool with various uses. Although many use it for editorial planning and project management, it also works well as a free event planner.
Divide your holiday party’s main components, like entertainment, food and drink, and decorations, into boards. Then, you can use cards to further break down and assign the tasks involved with each component. For example, you might have the entertainment board filled with tasks for auditioning, choosing, and booking a live band or DJ.
Try Canva to create invitations, flyers, and other handouts or visuals you might need for your holiday party. You can also use it to create nametags, table placeholders, and event programs.
The free tool includes a drag-and-drop design tool and a ton of templates to get you started. Search for the type of product you want to make, and Canva probably has a base template for it. Choose from thousands of free graphics, images, and fonts to customize your design before you save and print it.
If you need more comprehensive planning than what Trello provides, SocialTables will do the trick. This event planning software is best for businesses with frequent events, although you can try it for one event with up to 150 attendees for free.
SocialTables helps you manage attendees, create visual seating charts, explore the best venues, and allow guests to check in. You can also print seating charts and other diagrams you make.
4 Tricks for Holiday Parties
Try these actionable tips for making every company holiday party a successful one.
#1. Give Employees a Survey
Making your employees feel heard is the best way to foster a healthy company environment every day. Consider bringing that openness into holiday party planning, too. Gathering opinions from the people you work with can take some of the planning responsibilities off your shoulders, so it’s a win-win.
The simplest way to accomplish this is through a quick survey at least a couple of months before the big day. You can use a free tool like Google Forms to ask questions and share the link via company emails. Consider questions like:
- What venue suggestions do you have?
- Should the party be family-friendly?
- What kind of theme would you like, if any?
- Are there any dates or times that do NOT work for you to attend?
- Would you be open to donating anything, like money or refreshments, for the party?
Establish an open-ended answer space for respondents to offer suggestions for anything you may not have thought of. Be sure to collect names on the form to follow up with your employees if you have any questions or would like more information about their suggestions.
#2. Limit Alcohol
Alcohol can cause liability issues at a company holiday party. If you plan to have alcohol at the event, you should have some ground rules in place beforehand. It’s not asking too much of employees planning to attend to review and sign off on the company liability and behavior policies a day or two before the policies. And make sure management is setting a good example by drinking responsibly.
You can choose to have an alcohol-free event and offer non-alcoholic replicas of some of your staff’s favorite drinks. However, many employees see a company party as a place to let loose a little and enjoy a fun social event and may even expect some alcoholic options to be served. You could limit the number of drinks per person by issuing drink tickets before the party or setting a time for the bar to close.
#3. Make Invitations Clear
The clearer your invitations, the easier it will be for everyone to adhere to any policies you have in place for the party. For example, to have a proper count of how many attendees to expect, you can limit each person to one guest, making it clear on the invitation that it’s a plus-one event.
If the event is childfree or you’re asking each person to bring a covered dish, note these requests on the invitations.
#4. Show Your Appreciation
The best holiday parties take time to thank employees for a great past year and recognize individuals for outstanding achievements at work. Doing so can boost company morale and create an inviting, rewarding culture that employees want to be a part of. This doesn’t need to be the longest part of your party, but it should take enough time to make sure everyone feels appreciated.
Use this time to make a speech about employee and company accomplishments throughout the year and recognize at least a few people you feel have excelled in their positions. You might also pass out company bonuses and individual awards.
What to Do Next
A holiday party is not a benefit like company retirement plans and health insurance, but it is another way to show your employees appreciation year after year. With a strong focus on planning your holiday party with all employees in mind, it should be a successful one that everyone can enjoy. Consider using project management software, like Trello, to organize and plan a memorable party with ease.
After the party, invite your employees to share feedback about what they liked and didn’t like. You can even have cards ready for them to fill out and place in a feedback box before leaving the party. Use their feedback to tweak next year’s holiday party, potentially making it an even better one.