Question:

It’s that time of year and, as my company’s HR Director, I am once again in charge of planning the holiday party. Every year I have to make decisions about the party’s venue, whether to invite just employees or whether to include their spouses or families, and how to control the alcohol consumption at the party. Our company hasn’t had anything serious happen in the past, but I still worry about these issues—what are your thoughts?

Answer:

It’s true that these kinds of considerations are important when making decisions about your company’s holiday celebration. However, by following some basic suggestions and guidelines, you can ensure that your party is enjoyable and safe for everyone involved.

The primary concern for most employers usually involves alcohol consumption by their employees. In fact, this is such a problematic issue that some employers have simply stopped serving alcoholic beverages at company functions. If you do decide to serve alcohol at your party, however, you might consider having the event off-site, and having it during nonworking hours. It is also a good idea to hire a professional bartender for the event, and to have a cash bar so as to discourage excessive consumption.

Many employers arrange transportation such as taxis in advance, so their employees will have an alternative to driving themselves home. You can also ask certain managers to monitor for individuals who are visibly intoxicated, and to ensure they do not drive themselves home. Lastly, you should make sure that you stop serving alcohol well before the party officially ends. For more tips on making sure your holiday party is safe, you can visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s website. Click here to visit.

When planning your party, you should also take into account your employees’ various cultural and religious beliefs. For instance, religious symbols such as crosses or manger scenes may be offensive to non-Christian employees, and could make those employees feel unwelcome at the party. The best bet is to go with neutral decorations (e.g., snowflakes, icicles, snowmen, etc.) and to avoid anything with an overtly religious connotation. When planning your menu you should take into account that different cultures and religions have different dietary requirements. It is therefore a good idea to provide a variety of foods—with some vegetarian options—as well as an assortment of beverages, including plenty of non-alcoholic options. You should also avoid going to the opposite extreme by trying to recognize every culture and religion that your employees represent. Instead, keep your party as neutral as possible—this will help ensure that nobody will be offended or feel left out of the celebration.

Another tip for a successful holiday event is to let your employees know what to expect in advance. You might consider circulating your company’s policy on drugs and alcohol, as a reminder that intoxication will not be tolerated. You should also let your employees know whether their spouses or significant others are invited to the party. Telling people in advance can help avoid awkward situations at the party, and will allow your employees to plan ahead if they need childcare for the event. Having spouses and significant others present may also help prevent your employees from getting too wild at the party.

If you put the emphasis for your party on celebrating, as opposed to making it an excuse for employees to get drunk on company time, you will set the stage for a more manageable event. To this end, you might consider giving awards to employees for performance during the previous year, or handing out gift certificates or other tokens in recognition of your employees’ service to the company. You can also do things like games and gift-swaps in order to focus everyone’s attention on something other than drinking. If you do decide to do a gift-swap, however, you might consider putting parameters on the gifts. For instance, you can do a theme (e.g., movies, music, or edible gifts) and it’s also a good idea to establish a dollar limit so nobody goes overboard. Employees should be reminded that gifts should be appropriate for the workplace, so as to discourage “gag gifts” or anything sexual in nature. These kinds of games and gift-giving activities have the dual benefit of distracting people from over-partying at your event, and also reinforcing camaraderie among your employees.

When planning your holiday event this year, remember that making celebration and goodwill the focus of your party will remind everyone that you’re all part of the team that makes your company successful.
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