‘Tis the season to dread the office holiday party. It’s hard to please everyone, so it’s hard to plan the perfect event that makes people feel appreciated for their hard work all year and not patronized with a plate of Santa-shaped Rice Krispie treats to make up for a year full of professional heartache. There are a few things you can do when planning your company holiday party to really kill your culture if for some reason that’s on your holiday wish list, you evil-hearted Scrooge.
Do you see yourself in any of the following lumps of coal?

  • To your credit, you learned from the year you unilaterally made a bunch of holiday party decisions on your own and then received blowback for going to the cafeteria downstairs as a group and doing the white elephant thing embarrassingly without enough gifts to go around. So this year you ask Muriel to look after things, and she assembles a task force of 17 people and calendars 20 hours of planning meetings between now and the party. (17 x 20 = a lot of work hours.)
  • When Muriel asks what the holiday party budget is this year, you get all shifty. Muriel is a real piece of work, (and understandably frustrated) so she tells not a small number of people that you don’t want to pay for the party this year, and now you look like the cheap bastard that you are.
  • You end up responding to Muriel with the approved budget several weeks later, long enough to have all the good dinner places be booked up until next year.
  • When brought into Holiday Party Planning Task Force meeting #7 for your input on their “straw man plan,” you take things in a different direction – the direction you like – even though it’s not reflective of what the team (or the company) actually wants.
  • In Holiday Party Planning Task Force meeting #8, the team presents you with the idea of donating the holiday party budget to a not-for-profit down the street where your team members could also volunteer as a group during the planned party time. You laugh and ask them if they are joking.
  • Someone pipes up to ask about the two remote team members in Scottsdale and Buffalo. “What about them?” you densely ask back. It never occurred to you to include Kris and Steve in your team event, given that they are a part of your team. You ask a lot of blank faces, “Can’t they just dial in?”
  • The team debates the pros and cons of inviting partners to the event, to which you respond that you would never bring your spouse to a work thing. People cock their heads ever so slightly and look quizzically at one another.
  • Everyone remembers that time when Ed had too much to drink, so a debate ensues about whether the event should be dry. You suggest that maybe the event be held on a Friday when Ed works from home, to avoid the problem altogether.
  • You fail to grasp that people love to go home early from work with permission – it’s a universal workplace truth – so when you suggest that you have a holiday lunch party from 12 – 3 and then everyone can go back to their desks, you’re clueless why everyone looks like they ate bad shrimp.
  • You keep calling it the “Christmas Party,” catch yourself, then exaggerate your self-correction with “OOPS – I mean, the HOLIDAY Party” and a mock, “jail me!” expression on your face to make it clear that you’re trying to be PC and think it’s ridiculous to have to do so. You look like such a jackass every time you do that, and you just have no idea.
  • In a disastrous attempt to “check the diversity box,” you turn to an African American member of your team and ask how he celebrates the holidays in his culture.
  • Your senior team suggests it would be nice to have holiday cards personally signed for each employee, an idea to which you agree and then do nothing about, so your administrative assistant has to take the stack of cards off your office floor and forge your signature the night before the party.
  • At the party, everyone is given a goofy but festive nametag to wear, and you won’t wear yours. Everyone was also encouraged to wear something festive, and you wore your suit — not a Santa suit — to continue to make it clear that you are not one of them.
  • You deliver a speech that makes it clearly evident you didn’t prepare for or even think about for even one hot second. You ramble a little about how much you had to travel this year, how at least you kept your status up with the airline, and when people start to drift you refocus and turn what was supposed to be a heartfelt thank you for a great year speech into a lecture of how people need to work both smarter and harder next year, which has never motivated anyone in the history of ever.
  • You welcome Kris and Steve in front of the group and loudly ask them if they’re going to get any business done on this trip to make it worthwhile to have brought them in.
  • You can’t understand why some people are a little despondent at the party, particularly those who learned earlier today they didn’t get a year-end bonus. You don’t connect the dots that the money spent on caviar and the mime you insisted the task force hire for the party is seen as distasteful on a day when many were told, “We just don’t have the surplus this year.”
  • You hog the karaoke machine.
  • You have a few too many and start picking on Ron from sales for not exactly having a banner year. Ron just finished seven weeks of radiation treatment so no, he wasn’t able to make his sales goal.
  • You stay until the bitter end, ignorant of the fact that people just want to let loose without the boss around. Also, they want to talk about you and it’s hard to do with you there. Your only saving grace is if you’re paying the bar bill.

It might feel impossible to do the company holiday party right, but that’s not the case. If you’re a leader, just try and think about it from the perspective of your employees – the majority of the people there. Put people at the forefront of your thought process and you’ll start making decisions that are better for your culture and your party.  Unless of course, you’re evil at your rotten core, and we can’t help you or your team members with that.
Want more ways to demolish all that’s good at your office? Then you need to read more Culture Killer articles!
Motivating Your Team
Promoting People
Onboarding People

Jodi Wellman

Jodi is a co-founder of Happy Work Spectacular Life, loves red Skittles (maybe too much) and finally got a Happy Spectacular logo tattoo.