Company holiday party ideas

Opening the news lately is like watching a highlights reel of “worst hit.” In recent weeks, we’ve been bombarded with an avalanche of stories showing celebrities – deeply established, well-respected entertainers, politicians and media personalities – being accused of salacious, inappropriate behavior. These stories have been almost exclusively about men in power, who have abused their position and authority to engage in improper behavior towards female colleagues, acquaintances and even strangers.

It’s been terrible to see and follow these stories, especially when learning the lurid details about how men whose works I’ve enjoyed for a long time have been treating women. Judging by the reactions I’ve seen online and speaking with others in person, I am unsurprisingly not alone.

But it does beg the question for us observers: what can, or should, we be doing in response to this narrative? Is it enough to simply be outraged, offended and disgusted? Or must we actually take some form of action, to back up that indignation with some form of tangible deed? It’s a complicated and delicate subject, especially for employers, managers, parents, teachers – all of us, really.

But let’s focus on one event in particular where a difference can be made right away: the office holiday party.

It’s the season, after all. With December shortly approaching, my company, which specializes in company trivia events, corporate entertainment and employee team building activities, will soon pivot to producing unique interactive office holiday party entertainment. I love putting these special events together. Staff holiday parties speak to the heart of TrivWorks’ mission, and to the reason why I established this company in the first place: as a means of thanking and rewarding hard-working employees for their loyalty, and showing appreciation for a job well-done. I also never got to really enjoy a proper holiday party experience myself when I was an office worker, so there’s that whole aspect as well (follow this link for another article on why I love producing these types of events).

But you don’t need me to tell you that the annual office party has a somewhat infamous reputation. Stories abound about regrettable words & actions, inappropriate behavior, and so many other things occurring in what is supposed to be a fun and festive fete. People can sometimes get a bit too comfortable and relaxed, leading them to say and do things which they might be sorry for – like this. And what is the main culprit in this loose and possibly detrimental behavior?

Alcohol.

What’s a company holiday party without alcohol? The two are nearly synonymous, after all; folks have come to expect it. Do away with the booze at the HOLIDAY party? Are you serious?

Yes, I am serious – serious about talking about it, anyway.

Personally, I hate the idea of a dry company party. I think when consumed responsibly, alcohol can be a fantastic social lubricant; in an office environment, it can therefore serve as a means for releasing tension, defusing conflict, and allowing people to just…well, RELAX. To let their hair down, realize we’re all human after all, and set aside the power struggles and politics which exist in every workplace.

The problem, of course, is: what happens when alcohol ISN’T consumed responsibly?

At my previous employer before TrivWorks, my corporate trivia event production company, became my full-time gig, they had a dry employee holiday party. This was at a major NYC cultural institution, with over 300 full-time employees. It was nonprofit, so the pay truly sucked (hence leading me to seek out side gigs as a bar trivia host and team building event producer – funny how things work out). We also got no bonuses, so the holiday party really was the one thing the organization did to show appreciation for employees.

Apparently, years before I joined there was an incident at the office holiday party involving alcohol – I have no idea what. But I DO know that it was serious enough (or rattled the brass enough) to hereby and forevermore ban the consumption of alcohol at any and all employee events, including the annual staff party. The result was a pretty lame event year after year; however, I have to admit the results spoke for themselves.

There was never an incident at the party. Ever.

A dry holiday party is a cultural as well as risk-avoidance issue. Whereas folks who work at a nonprofit cultural institution aren’t routinely around alcohol in a workplace environment, what about sales teams? Or folks working in the sports, entertainment, or hospitality & service industries for that matter, where booze at work events is far less uncommon? What do we do here?

It’s a conversation which I think must be had, especially in light of recent events and revelations. I think that taking the extreme stance of no booze at the party is a bit too far. We are all adults, after all; we have a responsibility to be professional and behave responsibly in the workplace, and should be entrusted to do so. HR folks will tell you that even the company party is still a company event, and as such employees at all levels are expected to adhere to the same rules and guidelines as they would in the office on any other workday.

And yet…this is a PARTY.

 My opinion is that companies can take reasonable measures to ensure a safe and proper event, where attendees behave appropriately and responsibly. It starts with the basics: companies can provide transportation, not let underage interns drink, and not let the bar serve shots. But more can be done here as well. A firm reminder about appropriate workplace behavior before the event may come across as pedantic, but it will also serve to remind attendees of how they are expected to act – especially in the current climate (lest there be unintended consequences, which you can learn about here).

There are so many thoughts and opinions on this topic out there, and I truly do want to spark a conversation about this. What do you think? Should they serve booze at the year-end staff party? If so, should it be regulated in any way? What can companies do to protect their employees – and themselves – from the potentially harmful outcomes which serving may bring?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

For further reading on the sensitive subject of serving alcohol at company events, visit www.trivworks.com/2011/08/should-you-serve-alcohol-at-a-corporate-team-building-event/