Planning an Office Holiday Party

Planning an Office Holiday Party? Avoid the Naughty List Without Being a Scrooge

by Tory Waldron - December 5, 2018

There’s a lot of controversy about holiday parties these days. With 2018’s #metoo movement, many organizations are worried about the possible legal ramifications of hosting a holiday party. If you are in charge of planning this year’s holiday party, it’s important to follow a few simple rules of conduct to ensure every attendee has a fun (and safe) time.

Avoid the “Naughty List”: 6 Rules of Conduct   

1) Keep it Legal

When planning the party, ensure that it doesn’t violate religious discrimination laws, ignore medical needs, or fail to provide access to disabled guests. It is best to also keep the party non-denominational to avoid offending any religious faiths or making anybody feel excluded. That doesn’t mean you can’t decorate with festive wreaths – but try to avoid overly religious symbols such as nativity scenes and menorahs. And, in accordance to FLSA state wage and hour claims, if the party continues after work hours, it is important to label the party as “voluntary for all employees.” A mandatory after-work-hours holiday party would require your organization to dole out overtime pay to hourly workers (and some salaried workers that meet the criteria for non-exemption).

2) Employee Handbook Reminder

Before the party, remind employees that this is a workplace event and the rules of the handbook are still in full affect. In other words, being “under the influence” does not make an employee immune to disciplinary action.

3) Say 'Yes' to Plus Ones

Encourage all employees to bring a plus one. Having a significant other or spouse around may help prevent any unwanted sexual harassment. And, shyer employees may be more willing to come out of their shells if they are in the presence of a person that they are comfortable around.

4) Two Drink Maximum

Typical company party protocol dictates that there should be a two drink maximum per employee. Free-flowing alcohol can easily lead to lapses in judgement, and these lapses in judgement can lead to thousands of dollars in legal bills for your organization.

5) Party Chaperone

The holiday party should have a “party chaperone”: a person, typically HR personnel, that remains sober and keeps an eye out for any risky behaviors.

6) Transportation Home

Consider providing company paid-for transportation and arrangements for all employees to get home. Most companies offer to order or reimburse taxi or Uber services.

Get on the “Nice List”: 7 Holiday Activities for Your Organization

Once you have your rules of conduct in place, here are a few fun holiday activities that won’t break the bank (or cause any HR fires):

1) Cookie or Gingerbread House Decorating

Set up your break room tables with plastic table cloths, gingerbread people, frosting, gum drops, and sprinkles. Invite employees to decorate a cookie, chat with coworkers, and enjoy a mug of hot chocolate. You can also make this activity competitive by judging the “best cookie or gingerbread house,” with a small $25 gift card as a prize for first place.

2) Snow Globe Building

Building a snow globe may sound tricky, but the only materials you need are mason jars, glitter, corn syrup, glue, water, small figurines, and decorations. Have employees decorate the outside of their mason jar, fill the jar with small figurines and loose glitter. Then, assist them by adding water and corn syrup and tightening the lid on the jar to complete the project! This activity may get messy, so a plastic table cloth may be a good investment as well.

3) Yankee Gift Swap

This fun, holiday game requires all participating employees to bring a small, wrapped gift (valued anywhere between $10 to $20) to the party. One by one, employees take turns drawing a number out of a hat. Each employee unwraps a gift according to the numerical order. After they unwrap their gift, they have the option to keep it or swap it for another player’s already-opened gift. The only exception to this rule is the player that draws “1,” has the option of swapping their gift for another gift at the very end of the game.

Note: It might be a good idea to purchase a few extra Yankee gifts to throw into the mix, just in case an employee forgets theirs. It is also important to stress that employees must stay within the designated dollar limit, lest a Michael Scott/iPod incident occur!

4) Potluck/Catered Lunch

A nice lunch during work hours can be a great way to spread holiday cheer. Some offices prefer to host a potluck, where participating employees bring in an appetizer, entrée, or dessert. When planning a potluck lunch, create a list of who’s bringing what in order to make sure there aren’t any overlapping items. If employees grumble about having to prepare home-cooked food, have this lunch delivered from a local restaurant or caterer instead. The point of this lunch is to eat, sit, and talk with coworkers, so don’t enforce a strict time limit on the festivities.

5) Charity Event/Community Service

Engage your employees’ charitable sides by organizing a “holiday giving” event. There are a number of great options:

  • Toys for Tots is an organization that gathers over 25 tons of toys to distribute to families in need during the holiday season. Organize a drive at your office and encourage employees to either donate money or bring in unopened, new toys. Once the drive is over, you can take these toys to your local Toys for Tots chapter.
  • Cradles to Crayons provides children throughage 12 who are living in homeless or low-income situations with the items they need to thrive — at home, at school, and at play — free of charge. Similar to Toys for Tots, encourage employees to bring in new and like-new clothing, shoes, books, and toys that have been outgrown or replaced.
  • The Salvation Army has a variety of holiday programs, from coat drives to meal delivery. Locate your local chapter and see how you can get your organization involved.
  • Find a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen that is looking for help this holiday season. It is best to give your local shelter a quick phone call and they will help determine which dates and times would work the best. Once you’ve picked a date, set up transportation from the office to the shelter.
  • Is your office obsessed with dogs and other furry friends? ASPCA may be the perfect charity for your organization this holiday season. They accept Holiday Honor Gifts, and the money goes to helping animals in need.
  • Does your local American Red Cross food pantry branch have need for volunteers? Would employees be open to donating blood if your organization hosted a blood drive? If so, these are two great ways to give back this holiday season.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what type of charity or nonprofit you pick to help. It’s most important to ensure the whole office is engaged. Get everyone on board with a simple office poll; provide three options and then go with the most popular choice.

6) Holiday Movie

Everyone loves a good holiday movie. All you’ll need is a big screen and popcorn! Provide employees with a choice between two or three movies and do your best to keep the options nondenominational and professionally appropriate. Then, start the movie around 3:00 p.m., so that employees can leave work on time.

7) Secret Santa

Secret Santa is an affordable way for your office to exchange holiday presents. Put the names of each participating employee into a hat and ask everyone to draw one name. Explain to employees that the name of the person they draw is the person they will purchase a gift for. Be sure to set a dollar limit for anywhere between $10 to $20. Keep the name a secret until the unveiling party where employees surprise each other with presents.

The holidays can be one of the most stressful seasons for HR professionals. Why not make your life a bit easier by getting pay out of the way? offers the broadest and most complete set of data coverage, pricing, and consulting resources available today to help your business develop balanced, equitable, and competitive total rewards programs. Book a demo today.

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