I've seen many a company Christmas party that was planned with the best of intentions but executed with inadvertent blunders. Here are a few party planning tips to consider before you begin your own holiday celebration:
- Good will for everyone. Remember that the company Christmas party is all about generating good will. Whatever you do, you do not want your good intentions to backfire. For example, let's say that your company relies on a blend of regular and contract employees. Chances are that your contract employees may be more appreciative of a Christmas bonus or some paid holiday days off than a lavish holiday party (or in a perfect world, all of the above). While you could well be thinking, "Everyone will feel pampered if I buy only top-shelf scotch," they might really be thinking, "Wow, x number of dollars on booze and not even a bonus for us."
In the old days, when everyone was an employee, companies did not need to tread quite as carefully as they do now. Consider the point of view of everyone who is a part of the company - full-time, part-time, contract and otherwise - as you decide on your plans.
- Inclusiveness. You won't believe this story, but it's true. I once worked at an establishment where only select members of a team were invited for Christmas lunch. Worse, the head of the company would go through the department, and tap those chosen on the shoulder while everyone else looked at one another out of the corners of their eyes in disbelief. If you're having a party, make sure that it's a party for everyone, not just the A-team. Keep this point in mind if your company has satellite offices, as well -the satellite offices deserve celebrations that are on par with the parent company's event.
- Company tradition. There's a lot to be said for the camaraderie that develops among employees. The positive good feelings that come from it can help propel a workplace beyond the ordinary. How you treat your staff becomes a part of the company's self-definition and tradition, and the Christmas party is a piece of that. I always think it's a good idea for employers to err on the side of seeing employees at their best and treating them accordingly. If you think that you employ stars, they're going to want to live up to your assessment.
People like to be appreciated and acknowledged; find a way to incorporate these values into your event, whether this involves public accolades or a handwritten note acknowledging an individual employee's unique contribution (tucked into a gift basket, perhaps?). Remember, too, that Christmas party details become a part of the office lore and company tradition.
- Generosity. Since this is an opportunity for the company to show its appreciation, err on the side of being generous. A few extra dollars spent here and there go a long way toward generating you some good will. I still think fondly of the bashes that Little, Brown and Company would put on back in my early days of employment - granted it was an East Coast publishing company so the standards may be different than say, a recycling facility in Peoria, but the point is that a good party is noticed and appreciated by employees, and makes them feel that they are a part of something special.
- Alcohol. This is always such a dicey topic: Everywhere you look, you are reminded to watch your Ps and Qs and, in particular, to refrain from drinking too much. Just to play devil's advocate for a moment, the whole point of a Christmas party is not to see people's usual buttoned-up selves but to see them with their hair down for a change. What better agent for achieving this objective than alcohol? When you think of any large, festive celebration over the course of human history, alcohol (or another intoxicating agent) was almost always involved.
Now, while I'm not saying that you want to encourage employees to tie one on, remember that alcohol is a social lubricant. Of course, you will need to consider offering taxi service, a designated driver system or some other way to ensure that if your employees are inebriated, they will arrive home safe and sound.
I've attended a variety of company parties over the years, some incredibly successful and some not. Before you get into the specifics of who, what, where and when, consider these general themes to be sure that your event is a success.