You found our list of unspoken holiday party do’s and don’ts.
Holiday party do’s and don’ts are guidelines and etiquette for corporate Christmas parties. For example, RSVP and avoid drinking too much. The purpose of these rules is to prevent embarrassing or dangerous situations and ensure that attendees have a safe and pleasant time at the company holiday party.
This post includes:
- holiday party do’s for employers
- office Christmas party etiquette for employees
- virtual Christmas party do’s and don’ts
- work holiday party rules
Here is everything you need to know.
Holiday party do’s and don’ts for employers
Here are best practices for employers planning company Christmas parties.
DO: Throw a party
Company Christmas parties are standard office celebrations, and most employees expect an event at year’s end. Skipping the holiday gathering can give the impression that you do not care about employees. At minimum, you should put aside an hour or two where employees can relax, gather with coworkers, and enjoy refreshments.
DON’T: Make the party mandatory
Party planners hope for a good turnout for holiday events. However, forcing employees to show up to these gatherings often takes the fun out of the experience. Feeling obligated to attend a party can prevent attendees from enjoying the afternoon or evening. Plus, folks’ holiday schedules tend to be tight, and shoe-horning in a date for a company event can cause extra stress.
A better approach is to encourage employees to attend, tempt invitees with teasers of the activities, and ask for RSVP’s to estimate a headcount.
DON’T: Ask employees to pay for the party
Employers typically pick up the tab for annual holiday parties. Expecting employees to pay-their-own-way is tacky. Not to mention, this ask can cause uncomfortable situations for team members of varying incomes and budgets. When the party comes with a price tag, attendees do not feel like guests and the event does not feel like a gift. Companies should commit to pay an amount per person for the end of year party. If employees ask to upgrade the experience, for instance traveling to a neighboring city for the event, then it is reasonable to pay up to a certain amount and expect guests to cover the rest. However, expecting employees to fund the party entirely is not advisable.
DO: Choose a time when the majority of employees can attend
The point of throwing a holiday party is to celebrate together as a team. For the best possible turnout, choose a date and time when most employees can attend. If hosting a virtual party for attendees in different timezones, then choose a time when the most number of employees will be awake and online. Be sure to give plenty of notice so that employees can save the date and keep the calendar clear. Also keep in mind that the earlier you book, the more likely you are to get a choice of dates. Most companies throw holiday parties and many venues fill up quickly for the dates the week before Christmas. If business is heavy in the weeks leading up to the holiday, then you may want to consider waiting until the new year to party so that employees are more relaxed.
DO: Send holiday party invitations
While you can simply announce the party during meetings, sending invitations makes employees feel more welcomed, and makes the occasion seem more momentous. Not to mention, invitations can convey important information such as dress code, guest allowances, RSVP instructions, and codes of conduct. If hosting a virtual end of year party, then the invitation can also include the meeting URL link.
DO: Set clear guidelines for employees
Employees are often unsure of how to act at holiday parties. Standards are often looser than at the office, and there is more of a party atmosphere than a work atmosphere. However, these occasions are still company events, and a baseline of professionalism is necessary. Be sure to set clear guidelines for employees so that team members feel comfortable and have fun while still positively representing the company. Leaving these expectations unsaid leaves the company vulnerable to liability.
DO: Consider a hybrid or virtual Christmas party
There is no need to cancel the festivities just because the team cannot gather in person. Virtual and hybrid parties have gained popularity in the past years, in part thanks to advancements in video conferencing technology and a rise of remote work. Remote parties make it possible for teams across the world to spend time together and bond at the holidays. If an in-person party does not seem possible, then consider an online party instead. Or, give employees the option of attending either event.
DO: Take holiday party safety precautions
Safety is as important as fun for annual parties. There are many precautions to take into mind when planning a company wide holiday event.
- If serving food, consider allergies. Mark dishes clearly and take steps to avoid cross contamination.
- If alcohol is involved, arrange transportation or lodging and encourage designated drivers.
- December is peak flu season. Provide plenty of hand sanitizer and book a space where there is room to social distance. Be ready to pivot to smaller team celebrations, just in case.
Keeping attendees safe is part of the job for party organizers. Taking the proper precautions protects the company and the guests, and prevents mishaps from detracting from the party.
DON’T: Limit festivities to Christmas
Most cultures and religions celebrate some holiday in December. To make your event more inclusive, leave room to honor many occasions. For mixed groups, you may lean more into the winter theme and stick to non-secular celebrations. Or, encourage employees to share traditions for a number of holidays. To ensure the party appeals to a wide audience, you can give employees the power to make anonymous suggestions to the party planning committee.
DON’T: Throw separate parties for managers and employees
Company holiday parties create a sense of togetherness. Throwing separate parties for managers and general employees creates division and sends the wrong message. It is ok to have team celebrations that are independent of the company wide event, including manager team outings. However the official Christmas party should be open to all employees, and all party goers should get equal treatment. This approach fosters a sense of community instead of an “us,” and “them” mentality.
DO: Model good behavior as a manager
Leaders set the standards for employee behavior, and the holiday party is no exception. In fact, it is even more important for managers to be on best behavior during annual parties. It is hard to ask the staff to act professionally when the head of a department comes dressed in a Santa speedo and spends the whole night doing keg stands. Be a model party guest, not the “do as i say, not as i do,” boss. Do not overeat or drink excessively, do not use bad language or wear risque clothing, maintain professional boundaries, and be social. Employees are sure to follow your good example, and you are likely to keep your team’s respect and avoid sticky situations.
DO: Plan games, activities, and entertainment
Organizing a party involves more than getting a venue and providing food. Do not leave it up to chance that guests will amuse themselves all evening. Instead, plan entertainment such as performances, activities, games, and contests to occupy the time. The trick to hosting a good holiday party is to balance open mingling and free time with structured activities such as raffles, trivia, and holiday icebreakers.
DO: Fit the party to your staff
Throwing the perfect party is less a matter of spending lots of money or adding over-the-top elements as it is tailoring the event to the crowd’s tastes. When planning the party, take employee demographics into account. For instance, if there are several young parents on the team consider a family-friendly party. Or, if your crew is full of adventure-seekers, perhaps replace the traditional party with a happy hour at an ice bar. You can reflect on past team outings and think about which events were most popular. Remember that you can poll your staff for ideas and suggestions as well.
DO: Give out favors and swag
Goodie bags are many folks’ favorite part of parties. Christmas is a season for giving, and it makes sense to cap off your holiday parties by giving guests a token of appreciation for attending the event and working hard throughout the year. You can use the holiday party as an opportunity to streamline employee gift-giving and hand out company swag, or prepare festive favors to send guests off on a high note.
Office Christmas party etiquette for employees
Here is a list of do’s and don’ts for employees attending annual company holiday parties.
DO: Attend the party
The holidays can be stressful, as can figuring out party etiquette. Between the fear of making faux-pas and hectic holiday schedules, it can be tempting to skip the company party altogether. However, making an appearance is advisable. Often, the holidays are the main opportunity for teammates to come together, bond, and celebrate shared wins. Spending time with coworkers helps to build work friendships, and makes on-the-job collaboration easier. Regularly skipping these events may send the message that you are not interested in being part of the team or participating in company culture. Not to mention, organizers put in hard work to make the party as enjoyable as possible for attendees. Chances are, you will have more fun than you think if you give the company party a chance.
DO: Participate in activities
To get maximum benefits from the party, participate in activities. For instance, sign up for Secret Santa, enter contests, check out food and activity stations, and take part in games like trivia and scavenger hunts. Getting hands-on will make the party more fun. You may even walk away with prizes, presents, and new friends.
DO: Prepare your guests
Your guests are a reflection of you. Even if you are on best behavior, if your guest says something offensive or causes a scene, you may find yourself dealing with fallout. When inviting a plus one, use discretion and only bring an acquaintance you know and trust. Be sure that your guest is clear on party etiquette. If bringing your kids to a family-friendly event, then have a conversation about behavior beforehand, or consider getting a sitter or leaving early if your children are too wild to be calm for the whole party.
DO: Take the opportunity to meet new colleagues
Christmas is not the time to stick to cliques. The whole office may be in attendance, and the event is a prime chance to branch out and interact with teammates you may not see often the rest of the year. Take time to catch up with old colleagues, or meet new coworkers. When forming teams for games, ditch departments and form mixed teams.
DON’T: Overindulge in alcohol
Alcohol can be the best and worst part of holiday parties. HR files are full of horror stories of employees behaving badly after one-too-many cups of eggnog. Enjoying a drink or two at a holiday party is usually fine, however overindulging can lead to trouble. To avoid embarrassing situations, pace yourself and try not to have more than one drink per hour, or stop after a set number of drinks. Or, avoid the bar altogether if you suspect that you might get too merry.
DON’T: Wear scandalous attire
Holiday party dress codes tend to differ from normal dress codes. However, these gatherings are still company events and a level of professionalism is expected. Depending on the venue, showing some skin may not be out of the question, for instance, wearing a cocktail dress with bare shoulders. When picking out an outfit, use your best judgment and tact. As a rule, avoid overly tight or short clothing or revealing cutouts, and ditch offensive joke clothing.
DON’T: Flirt with coworkers
“Meet me under the mistletoe,” is a phrase that has no place at a company Christmas party. The relaxed atmosphere and availability of alcohol at parties can lead to flirtation. However, making passes at coworkers, even jokingly, can cause discomfort, and may even count as harassment. Remember that holiday parties are professional events, and save romance for your personal life.
For more tips, here is a guide to managing office romances.
DON’T: Gossip or complain
Trying to find non-work topics to talk about can lead to talking about co-workers in non-work ways. Gossip is bad form at any company function. However, commenting on coworkers is especially inadvisable at large-scale events, where word can easily get back to the subject. Do not join critical or inappropriate conversations, and steer talk away from salacious gossip. Try to remain as positive as possible when chatting with other partygoers, which also means limiting complaining. The holidays can be stressful and venting blows off steam, but too much griping can be a damper on the occasion.
For talking topics, try out these icebreaker questions.
DO: Thank party organizers
Planning a party is no easy task. While Christmas parties are standard happenings in most offices, this is no reason to take the work of organizers for granted or be ungrateful. Take a minute to thank the folks responsible for making the party possible. You can acknowledge the organizers individually during the party, or with an announcement and round of applause at the end of the event. You may even want to give a gift to show appreciation.
DO: Relax and have fun
Parties are meant to be fun, not punishment. Do not let the rules freak you out and stop you from having a good time. Annual parties are a chance to connect with peers, relax, recharge, and reap the rewards of your hard work. Be smart and responsible, but be silly and friendly, and above all, enjoy yourself.
Virtual Christmas party do’s and don’ts
Here is a list of tips and rules for virtual holiday parties at work.
DO: Throw or attend a hybrid or virtual party
Just because your group cannot gather in person, does not mean you cannot hold a rocking Christmas party. With proper planning, attention to detail, and an emphasis on engagement, you can host a memorable online event that employees love and talk about well into the new year.
DO: Log in from a semi-quiet spot with strong internet
Parties can get loud, but preferably not from construction next door, the neighbor practicing trumpet, or your toddler singing Frozen at the top of her lungs. To focus fully on the festivities, join the party from a quieter area of the house, and make sure the internet connection is strong to avoid lag or interruptions.
DO: Test technology before the event
Testing the technology is an absolute necessity if you are the party host, and is also recommendable for guests. Missing part or all of the party due to a software update, bad connection, or glitchy webcam and mic would be a bummer. At least five or ten minutes before the party starts, log on, find the meeting link, test your camera, microphone, and internet speed, and make sure you are ready to go. It also helps to have the contact information handy for urgent technical support.
DON’T: Post the meeting URL in public
In the same way you would not want a stranger off the street crashing an in-person company party, you do not want any uninvited guests hanging around your Zoom meeting. For maximum security, do not post the meeting link in public. Instead, send the link via email or calendar invitation and tell invitees to keep the link private. Be sure to use a secure Zoom connection, have hosts admit participants from the waiting room, and lock the meeting once all attendees are present.
DON’T: Multitask during the festivities
Tempting as it may be to pull up a browser window and knock out the rest of your holiday shopping, multitasking prevents you from fully enjoying the event. When your attention is elsewhere, you are not present with your peers. Before the party starts, finish chores and work, and close out lingering tabs. Stepping away from the screen for a moment or two is fine, but spending the whole party distracted detracts from the experience for everyone involved.
DO: Interact in the chat and in breakout rooms
One of the challenges of Zoom parties is in the main room, participants wait for a turn to talk and may get minimal screen time or 1:1 time with peers. Luckily, the chat box and breakout rooms can simulate the small group dynamics that make traditional parties intimate.
DO: Introduce non-virtual elements
Remote workers spend a significant amount of time in front of screens. Holiday parties should feel like a break from work, not another Zoom meeting to attend. Introducing non-virtual elements to a virtual party is one way to make the event pop.
- Send attendees care packages full of snacks, supplies, activities, and gifts.
- Hold a tasting or decorating as part of the festivities and include a kit.
- Plan games that involve movement, such as scavenger hunts.
- Host contests with prizes.
Stipends also help. You can reimburse attendees for a round of food and drinks, for instance. This approach helps Zoom parties to feel equivalent to the offerings of in-person events.
DO: Play holiday games and activities
Games make virtual parties more hands-on and interactive. To get attendees in the holiday spirit, plan winter themed activities. For example, ask participants to share childhood Christmas photos and guess the team member, play “name that tune,” with Christmas carols, and decorate gingerbread cookies together. These activities will give structure to your party and help to get rid of initial Zoom awkwardness.
Here is a list of Christmas trivia questions.
DON’T: Forget the music
Tunes set the tone of any party, and Christmas is its own genre of music. Music can foster a more festive atmosphere at your virtual holiday party. Simply find or make a playlist of seasonal music on Spotify or YouTube, then play the tunes during the meeting. For best possible audio quality, select “share screen,” on Zoom, then click advanced settings, and choose “share audio only.”
Pro tip: Ask attendees for song suggestions and build a collaborative playlist.
DO: Welcome cameos from family members and pets
Getting a glimpse of a cute kid or a cuddly critter is one of the benefits of Zoom meetings. These sightings often result in coworker delight on normal workdays, and holiday parties are even more casual affairs. There is no reason that pets, parents, precocious children, grandparents, or eccentric roommates cannot make an onscreen appearance during the event. Instead of chasing your housemates from the room, invite them on camera and introduce them to the group. Your teammates will get a peek into your home life.
DON’T: Be afraid to unmute the mic
“Silent night” is the name of a Christmas carol, not the goal for your remote holiday party. Virtual Christmas parties are informal affairs, and there is no need for the whole group to stay on mute. Participants should be comfortable turning the audio on and talking to peers, or, at least, typing comments into the chat. These gatherings are not serious meetings or formal presentations, and attendees should seize every opportunity to interact and bring energy to the call.
Work holiday party rules
Here is a list of sample rules for corporate Christmas parties.
1. Dress code
When deciding a dress code for the event, defer to the rules of the chosen venue. Upscale restaurants and event spaces may prefer clientele to dress more formally, and ignoring these standards would be a faux pas. On the other hand, for non-conventional holiday parties, such as escape rooms or adventure sports, it is important for attendees to wear functional clothing.
Party dress code often differs from office dress code. For a black-tie cocktail event, showing shoulders is usually not a big deal. Nor is showing up in street clothes for a casual holiday happy hour. Organizers may even encourage costumes, for instance, by hosting an ugly sweater party.
Attendees often have questions about what to wear to company parties. To save confusion, drop a line or two about the dress code into the invitation.
RSVP-ing is a best practice for corporate Christmas parties, for good reason. A party-planner’s worst nightmares include booking a room too big or too small, running out of or overspending on food, and failing to have activities to engage the whole crowd. These issues are avoidable by asking attendees to RSVP. Organizers do not need to enforce strict sign-ups. Some partygoers may cancel at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances, while others may decide to attend the day of the party. However, getting a general headcount helps hosts to better prepare and accommodate the group. Plus, asking for RSVPs makes guests less likely to flake.
Some holiday parties welcome guests, while others are open only to employees. It is important to distinguish which category the event falls under, especially if the organization has hosted both types of parties in the past.
When guests are allowed, then organizers should clarify the maximum number of guests, as well as who is able to join. For example, a significant other, an unspecified +1, the whole family, kids or no kids.
Also, drive home the point that the employee is responsible for the guests’ safety and behavior during the event.
Of all the rules for holiday parties, rules about alcohol are some of the most necessary. Many employers opt for an unspoken understanding of “do not drink too much,” while others find it helpful to provide clear guidelines. For example, some organizers may only serve beer and wine, implement a wristband system where attendees get a set number of drinks, or ban alcohol altogether.
If alcohol is present at the party, it is usually safe to assume that the employer condones responsible enjoyment of a drink or two. However, setting basic ground rules for holiday spirits can keep attendees from overindulging and getting into unfortunate situations.
Also, if serving alcoholic beverages at the party, be sure to have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and snacks on hand as well.
5. Social Media
Party guests may want to share the festivities on social media. Some companies are leery about allowing employees to post private functions on social media. There is no harm in sharing as long as attendees stick to certain guidelines. Party planners may even create a special hashtag for the event to promote the company and gather pictures more easily. Typically, if party guests follow Christmas proper party etiquette, there should not be any photos or captions that cause a scandal. However, sending around a copy of the company’s social media policy pre-party is a good idea.
6. General Etiquette
It helps to have a catch-all clause about general etiquette for holiday parties.
The Christmas party atmosphere involves many circumstances that differ from regular office rules. For instance, employees can dress less conservatively, enjoy food and alcohol, and relax. Loosening these rules can give the impression of an “anything goes” atmosphere, yet there are still boundaries employees should not overstep. What happens at a holiday party does not stay at a holiday party, and event faux pas can become workplace conflicts.
You cannot outline every possible scenario in the official policy, so a reminder to be professional is helpful. Caution employees to steer clear of any behavior that might upset the HR department, and trust your employees to make that distinction.
The do’s and don’ts of holiday parties are often unspoken. Because many of these standards align with HR policies and practices, employers may not feel the need to outright state expectations. However, it is worth noting that the party environment differs greatly from the office environment, and employees may be unsure of how to act. What may seem like common sense to one manager or team member may not occur to other teammates.
Music, alcohol, and heavy socializing are not typical in most offices, and allowing these elements may lead employees to incorrectly assume too much freedom. Rather than react to unfortunate situations, it is better to prevent problems. What happens at the holiday party does not stay at the holiday party. Missteps can tarnish reputations and relationships and turn into workplace conflicts. By communicating expectations and setting ground rules, organizers can ensure that the party is a safe, welcoming, enjoyable environment for all attendees.
For more seasonal fun, check out this list of Christmas team building activities and this collection of holiday scavenger hunts.
FAQ: Work Christmas party etiquette
Here are answers to common questions about work Christmas party etiquette.
What are the rules for office Christmas parties?
The rules for office Christmas parties may differ depending on the company and the venue. While holiday parties are fun events that often include music, alcohol, and a non-business dress code, the general expectation is that attendees should behave professionally. For instance, do not dress provocatively, drink too many cocktails, or flirt with coworkers. Standard party politeness also applies, for example, do not bring guests to close events, and remember to thank the hosts or organizers.
What should you not do at a holiday work party?
Things not to do at a holiday work party include gossip, drink excessively, ignore the dress code, flirt with colleagues, and keep to yourself or hang out only with your guest instead of mingling with coworkers.
What should you wear to a Christmas party for work?
What to wear to work Christmas parties depends on the venue and the employer’s discretion. Usually, the invitation will mention the dress code, for instance, black tie, casual, or costumes. If you have questions about what to wear, then reach out to ask party organizers to clarify the dress code.
Should you bring a gift to employee Christmas parties?
Typically, employers cover the costs of employee Christmas parties. If it is expected that attendees bring gifts, such as for Secret Santa or potlucks, this instruction should be clear on the invitation. You may choose to bring a small gift for the host to show thanks. However, you should avoid bringing gifts for some coworkers and not others, unless participating in a coordinated gift exchange.
What is virtual Christmas party etiquette?
Virtual Christmas party etiquette is similar to traditional office Christmas party etiquette. While employees can unwind and have fun, attendees should not behave in any manner that violates company policy or makes coworkers uncomfortable, for instance by swearing excessively or gossiping. Other best practices include not multitasking, testing technology, and using the chat or breakout rooms to interact with coworkers.
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