two women talking while holding drinks in their hands

2020 Is the Perfect Year to Reimagine the Holiday Party

December 17, 2020 Leadership
Lance Haun
By Lance Haun

One of the biggest gifts 2020 has brought is that companies can’t have an in-person holiday party. Or at least they shouldn’t.

You’re not having an actual, full fledged in-person holiday party, right? 

2020 has given us an opportunity to rethink all kinds of assumptions. Organizational leaders have grappled with such weighty issues as work-life balance, rapid digital transformation and the looming skills gap, among many other workforce issues. But there's something far, far more important to reconsider: Should we even go back to the holiday party as we know it? 

This may seem like a well-deserved gift for HR and in-house lawyers who have had a challenging year. And for companies with budgets stretched to their limits, it might also feel like an opportunity to put some of that budget in a rainy day fund instead of on some tacky decorations. But, in all seriousness, there are important employees considerations, too.

Very Few People Want an HR-Approved Party

The typical reason that people in HR and legal don’t want to deal with holiday parties is the potential lawsuits that await those organizations that host a bar and don’t properly supervise employees trying to have a good time. 

The UK law firm Ellis Whittam advises that HR write a memo to employees in advance of the party to:

  • Clearly lay down what is expected of employees.
  • Explain that instances of misconduct will result in disciplinary action.
  • Draw employees’ attention to other relevant policies, including bullying and harassment and social media.

Sounds like the beginning of a fun party, right? 

The law firms are right, though. Holiday parties are a legal minefield. Having a safe, compliant party means: 

  1. No alcohol.
  2. No gag gifts.
  3. No games.
  4. No pictures posted to social media.
  5. No mistletoe (no joke).

The list can go on and on. You don’t have to be the Grinch to see why people show up, have their one free drink, and then slink out the back before anyone notices. 

While the parties that do go off the rails can be fun for some employees, the potential for harassment or discrimination makes it not fun at all. If you want to share the spirit of the season, host a luncheon and give people an afternoon off. Tell them that you appreciate their work and give them a token of your gratitude. 

Related Article: Digital Transformation Came for HR. Where Do We Go Now?

Other Reasons Not to Do the Traditional Party

Of course, those who are committed to doing a holiday party will find ways to mitigate the risk besides a strongly worded memo. There are still more reasons to rethink the entire approach. 

The end of the year is normally a stressful, busy time for everyone — regardless of the industry. Adding in a party, both for those who have to plan it and those who feel an obligation to attend, is an additional commitment in a season full of commitments. Some organizations have moved parties to January or February, not only as a cost-saving measure but as a way to possibly have a more inclusive celebration that’s less stressful for everyone.

Another consideration is that a single party can’t appeal to everyone. Upping the stakes on one party to deliver a year’s worth of thanks for a job well done is an impossible task. Instead of focusing on a big party experience, spread out the celebrations and appeal to different groups of people. It also means an organization can try out new kinds of parties or group outings that are focused on particular interests with less pressure on everyone.

If you need a big, inclusive event, create it around something that’s meaningful for the company and your people instead of around an inconvenient time to try to book space and catering.

It’s Time to Move On

As you’re toasting your colleagues around a Zoom call and dreaming about next year’s epic seasonal get together, consider tapping the reset button that 2020 has given you and take a fresh look at your traditional party. 

There are better, more inclusive and less legally fraught ways to celebrate your people and have a great time. If you’re going to get a free pass for trying something new, 2021 will be the year to do it. And if everyone hates not having it, you can always go back to doing what you always do.

 Even if this Grinch thinks you’re better off with an alternative.


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