Ever been to a bad office holiday party? A white elephant gift exchange comprised of whatever people could find in the back corner of a desk drawer, some stale cookies and cheap wine in a conference room, and the Chipmunks chirping carols in the background as people chit chat about holiday plans. You may think that any party is better than no party at all—but a sad, soulless office party can backfire in a big way, making your team feel unappreciated.

The good news is, you don’t need a huge budget or lavish event to make your team feel special! All you need are a few creative ideas. Here are our tips for throwing a holiday bash your team will rave about all year long.

Carefully Consider the When & Where

Scheduling your party for a Friday evening sets much different expectations than a Tuesday afternoon. Don’t encourage people to stay late partying on a weeknight, and then expect them bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 8 the next morning. If you do decide to go all out and let the booze flow freely, do so responsibly and provide ridesharing or driver services so everyone can get home safely. Also, consider providing on-site childcare so attendees don’t have to scramble for a babysitter or miss out.

If you do hold your event during work hours, make sure your team’s workload is adjusted as well. No one wants to squeeze 8 hours of work into a 4 hour day because their entire afternoon is blocked off for a holiday party.

Don’t Skimp on the Decor

Go all out with the decorations to set the right tone and make the event feel really special. If you’re in a warm climate, consider creating a snowy wonderland indoors. Shut off the harsh fluorescents and bring in glowy electric fireplaces and battery-operated candles. Just make sure the decorations don’t lean too heavily toward a specific religion, to make sure everyone feels welcome. And don’t forget the music! The right tunes can add a lot of life to your event.

Save the Heavy Drinking for the After Party

Go ice skating, hold a gingerbread decorating competition, or take a cooking class for your main event, and then plan dinner or hors d’oeuvres and drinks after hours. That way people who need to get home to their kids or who simply don’t want to drink can still participate in the festivities.

Give Back

Get into the true holiday spirit and create some fun memories with your team by volunteering. It gives people a clear activity to do and converse about instead of just standing around with a glass in their hands. Even if you opt for a traditional party with dinner and drinks, you can still bring some of the spirit of the season to your event — organize a Toys for Tots drive or encourage people to bring canned goods to help stock food bank shelves.

Don’t Forget Remote Team Members

While remote work has many perks, feeling left out from office camaraderie is one of the major downsides. No one likes hearing about how much fun everyone had at the company party while sitting alone in their home office. So remember them when you plan your budget — send a special personalized gift or a gift card for a nice dinner. (Just make sure to check with payroll about any tax requirements—always gross up so employees don't have to pay taxes on a gift.)

Give a Personal “Thank You”

Special food and drinks are nice, but the real warm fuzzies of the holidays come in the form of gratitude and appreciation. In addition to the party, make sure each member of your team gets some kind of personal thank you from company leaders, whether it’s straight from the CEO or from a department head/direct manager. Depending on your budget, it can be a gift card, cash bonus, small personalized gift, or simply a thoughtful card about why you value them on your team.

Don't Force It

After all the time and effort you’ve put into planning your awesome office holiday party, it can be easy to take it personally if someone chooses not to attend. Don’t pressure people to come or make them feel like they’ll be labelled a poor team player or a boring Scrooge if they don’t. Some people have prior commitments, can’t get a babysitter, or just aren’t party people. That's OK! If they RSVP no, simply wish them happy holidays by placing a small gift and that personalized thank you note on their desk.

Office Holiday Party & Event Ideas

If you’d like to do something other than the traditional company dinner, consider these ideas for your holiday event:

  • Host a holiday movie day
  • Hold a gingerbread house decorating competition
  • Attend a comedy show
  • Go bowling or ice skating
  • Take a group cooking class
  • Volunteer at a local charity
  • Hold a Holidays Around the World event with traditions and food from various countries
  • Organize a cookie swap
  • Bring in a caricature or sketch artist, or a holiday-themed photo booth
  • Set up professionally staffed blackjack and poker tables and let guests "gamble" for raffle tickets and door prizes
  • Play Name That Tune with well-known carols

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