Written by Tory Waldron
December 5, 2018
There’s a lot of controversy about office holiday parties these days. With the #metoo movement, many organizations are worried about the possible legal ramifications of hosting an office holiday party. If you are in charge of planning this year’s office holiday party, it’s important to follow a few simple rules of conduct to ensure every attendee has a fun (and safe) time.
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 office 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).
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.
Encourage all employees to bring a plus one. Having a significant other or spouse around at an office holiday party 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.
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.
The office holiday party should have a “chaperone”: a person, typically HR personnel, that remains sober and keeps an eye out for any risky behaviors.
Consider providing company paid-for transportation and arrangements for all employees to get home. Most companies offer to order or reimburse taxi or rideshare services.
Once you have your rules of conduct in place, here are a few fun office holiday activities that won’t break the bank (or cause any HR fires):
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.
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.
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!
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.
Engage your employees’ charitable sides by organizing a “holiday giving” event. There are a number of great options:
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.
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.
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.
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