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10 Ways to Reinvent the Office Holiday Party

Posted by Jeff Pelliccio on Dec 15, 2017 9:00:00 AM

In ICS insights

In light of an improved economy and a better overall outlook this holiday season, employers appear more inclined to indulge when it comes to their employees. As long as the occasional splurge doesn’t directly affect their compensation or their company standing, employees are happy to take part.

If you’re looking for a way to break the mold, consider these traditional office party alternatives:

1. Hold a Holiday Baked Goods Exchange

A holiday dessert exchange is a great way to change up the standard office party offering. Provide eggnog, soft drinks, and mulled cider, and enlist employees to bring their best dessert game to the event. Get creative with last names to keep things organized. For employees with names A-G, suggest they bring desserts that include their last name in the title; for example, employees with the last name “B” would bring blueberry muffins and those with “D” would bring a dark chocolate torte.

Be sure to order a backup supply of dessert goods for quantity. This could even be turned into a competition like Chopped.

2. Throw an Ugly Sweater Party

Give dress down day a whole new meaning with a company-sanctioned Tacky Sweater Party.  Elect a staff photographer to ensure the tackiest attire gets recorded for the holiday newsletter. Accompany the event with catering and company-supplied refreshments for all. You can even get more creative and create categories for winners like the most beautiful sweater or best pop culture reference sweater.

3. Host a Catered Holiday Luncheon

Make it a half-day by closing down production at lunch. Provide company-supplied beer and wine and catered lunch items that reflect the local community’s holiday fare; for example, if you live in the Northeast, make sure clam chowder and oyster cracker snacks are on the menu. If you’re in the south, include oyster dressing and French bread. This can be a classy affair like a tea party or a dressed down occasion like a BBQ. Just make sure it's unique in theme.

4. Have a Holiday White Elephant Exchange

Create a sign-up system where employees can exchange just one gift with coworkers across the company. As a company grows, gift exchanges can become expensive. If you arrange for employees to pull names from a hat, they can focus on just one employee and one quality gift instead of stretching themselves thin with many gifts to multiple employees across many departments. You can add rules to the exchange if you want or even a theme. Gag gifts are a popular theme for this kind of exchange. 

5. Make a Charitable Donation

A great way to boost company morale is to host an employee volunteer event. Employees find company charitable giving to be a motivational perk in an organization, so planning a group toy drive or holiday decorations event for the elderly can really fit the bill. Visual giving reaps the best rewards—growing piles of food, clothing, gifts, and household items donated from fellow employees can make the lobby seem more welcoming and festive during the holidays. This will give more meaning to your holidays and may end up being more memorable in the end. If you still need some festivities, go out for a happy hour after the event it over. 

6. Have a Cooking Class

Since most employees really enjoy showing off their culinary skills, consider hosting a “how-to” complete with a celebrated local chef to teach how to create a favorite dish—and then share the dish across the company. This will be fun and could even turn competitive depending on who is involved. 

7. Decorate Your Office Space Contest

To really get the office in a festive spirit, hold a contest for employees to show off their decorating skills. Offer a prize that makes it worth going over-the-top. For example, consider an anonymous online voting system where the top result gets an Amazon gift card—and don’t forget to hold first, second, and third-place slots.

Teams can be added for decorating the community space, and you can hold a contest where the community spaces (think conference areas, break rooms, and lobby) are voted on by the staff.

8. Host a Secret Santa Gift Card Draw

Host a drawing where each employee picks a name and offers a holiday card. Limit the value of the card to $20, so no one feels over-extended. This one is a little more personal than the white elephant, so it helps if you have a tight-knit group. 

9. Throw a Christmas in July Party

Instead of burdening employees with one more festivity during an already busy time of year, offer to sponsor a community vote to give them what they really want. Are they excited about a lavish Halloween extravaganza? An 80’s Prom event? Create a committee that can devise exactly what would be most appreciated by employees across the board—and then splurge on that event instead.

Outside of the winter holiday craziness, a variety of out-of-the-office venues will be available and, of course, less expensive. Catering, drinks, decorations, and staffing can be less competitive and less stressful to come by, so you can run wild with creativity and ideas. Consider a lavish catered company picnic in the country or rent a catered yacht for hourly group trips during the offseason—you’ll benefit from enjoying a time when employees are less over-extended and ready to enjoy themselves. Check out our blog about throwing a Thanksgiving party. 

10. Host your own SantaCon

Have everyone dress as Santa and go on a bar crawl down your closest main street! This will be a fun exercise for all. Make sure that everyone has a ride home after its over to ensure the safety of your staff. You can partner with Uber or Lyft to have rides available or discounted. If you need to make it universal, let your employees dress up as some other holiday figure, like a snowman. 

Have a great time celebrating the holidays!