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Success and Failure of Holiday Office Parties
by Ruth Haag
The first staff that I supervised was made up of college students. None of us was making much money, and no one could afford a fancy holiday party. We decided that a potluck might work. We found a large room in our own building and had a sign-up sheet so that we wouldn't get too many baked-bean casseroles. On the assigned day, we met. Everyone was allowed to bring along his or her significant other. It was a wonderful party. The food was fun. The party was a success, and the staff worked better together afterward.
The Worst Party
The first place where my husband worked full-time collected money all year for the big holiday party. Since he was asked to donate money each week, I anticipated going to quite a nice party. I was really disappointed when we learned that the party was for the staff only (no spouses or family). Thirty years later, I am still grumbling about the fact that they took $6 each week out of our small budget for a party that I was not allowed to attend. Whenever we think about this employer, we remember our irritation over that party.
Increasing Party Expectations
At my husband's next job, we were told that the holiday party would be in the company cafeteria but would be semi-formal. We found a babysitter, got all dressed up, and went to the party. It was wonderful. There was an ice sculpture. There was great food, including shrimp. A pianist was playing, and people could sing along. We met many people. In short, we had a great time.
The next year, we found a babysitter and got dressed up. We arrived and found an ice sculpture; food, including shrimp; and the same pianist. We were not very happy. We expected the next party to impress us as much as the first year's had. We rated the supervisors as not too creative. We had trouble deciding whether we wanted to go the next year.
Parties for the "Better" People
The holiday party for the next job that my husband had went about the same, with the same ice sculpture and the same shrimp. The difference with this company was that none of the supervisors came to the company holiday party. We discovered that they were all attending a "special party" at the company owner's house. There was much grumbling and dissatisfaction among the staff.
Back to the Basics
When we started our own business, we didn't want our holiday parties to be evaluations of our personal ability to put on a party. We knew that we could not afford to make a bigger and better party each year. We also knew the value of having staff together away from work and the value of staff members meeting spouses and significant others. We decided to return to the original college idea. We had a potluck.
In this way, everyone took part in the preparation for the party. Since they were creating the party and not us, we were not judged based on the quality of the food. The staff and their families were able to have a nice time with one another.
To keep things interesting, we had different themes each year. We generally dressed up, and one year, we even rented tuxes. One year, we had a seven-course sit-down dinner. The staff teamed up to make the courses. One year, we had a chili cook-off. The parties were all fun and did not become evaluations of how much management cared.
Have a Party, But Make Sure That It Is a Positive Thing
If you are going to have a staff party during the winter holidays, make sure that it is a positive experience for everyone. While the purpose of going to work is to work, it often helps if people have a chance to learn a little bit about their coworkers' families. A party is a great way to have this little contact. Make sure that at your party:
- the staff helps to make the food.
- the staff and their families are invited.
- the supervisors come.
Ruth Haag helps managers and employees understand the dynamics of the work environment and how to function smoothly within it. She is the president and CEO of Haag Environmental Company. She has also written a four-book business series that includes Taming Your Inner Supervisor, Day-to-Day Supervising, Hiring and Firing, and Why Projects Fail. Her enjoyable, easy-to-read books provide a look at life the way it is, rather than the way you might think it should be.
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