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HR Tips
December 2014 
Keeping Holidays Happy at the Workplace
By Claudia St. John, SPHR
Ahh, the holidays are here again!   A time to be merry and to share special time with family.   While this time of year is one of joy and festivity, for employers it is also fraught with risk.   This is because even the very best of intentions for celebrating the holiday season at work can alienate, frustrate and – to be honest – inebriate your employees.  

There are a multitude of stories out there regarding office holiday parties that have gone off the rails.   But that doesn’t mean you should avoid or even scale back a good celebration.   You just need to be careful about it.

In an effort to help you avoid common holiday mishaps, here are some tips to help you plan how to celebrate the season with your employees.

Planning Your Party – Large formal evening events with spouses in tow have long been the standard for many corporate holiday parties. But these gatherings also can be met with dread (especially when alcohol is involved).   Instead, consider a smaller, more personal event that facilitates more meaningful communication and celebration. This fits nicely within a limited budget as well. Consider giving employees a chance to suggest what format would be most meaningful to them, such as day versus evening events, with or without family. We love a party with skits and games that provide opportunities for employees to play and break the ice in a safe and comfortable setting.   We’ve had good success with games such as the White Elephant gift exchange, office talent shows, office treasure hunts and holiday pot-luck meals. Volunteer days and an event in the owner or a manager’s home can be nice, as well.

Booze – Yikes. Let’s face it, it’s never a good thing for someone to be drunk at a work party. Not only can it create embarrassment, it can lead to much more serious employee encounters which, believe us, can create a mess that you don’t want to have to deal with. Some companies have an established culture that includes an open bar at the annual holiday event. Others are moving away from alcohol to avoid embarrassing incidents or to support those who do not imbibe. If you’re looking to move beyond the bottle, one way to do it is to have a holiday lunch party instead of an evening event. And if an evening affair is held, have the bar open only for a specific period of time (say 5:00 to 7:00 pm). And if you choose to have alcohol at your party, a word of advice: be the role model and don’t over-indulge.     

Family - The holidays, no matter how you celebrate, are a family time. But the definition of what constitutes a family is very broad. For some, their most important relationship could be with a friend or a distant relative. As you gather to show your appreciation of your employees’ hard work and their contribution to your collective success, we would suggest being as flexible as possible in your definition of who they may be permitted to bring as their guest.

Different Celebrations – As our nation and workforce become increasingly diverse, it is important to remember that not everyone celebrates the same holidays or in the same way. Ask your employees what holidays they celebrate and consider how those can be incorporated into the company’s festivities.   Consider celebrating your staff’s religious diversity by asking employees to share an aspect of their faith or culture (food, decoration, tradition, etc.) that is part of their holiday celebration. Doing so can create a meaningful exchange both enriching and fun for the whole team.

Gifts for Employees - Some companies like to provide a token of appreciation to employees. This is almost always appreciated by employees no matter how big or small. That’s why Secret Santa and White Elephant games are always fun – they transform the gift exchange into a fun, relaxed experience. If you are looking to create a gift experience that is a little different from the norm, consider giving charitable gift cards or donations in an employee’s name.   We love TisBest gift cards ( because they enable employees to make charitable donation to the non-profit organization of their choosing. In our experience, employees very much appreciate receiving this “gift of giving.”

Give Thanks – Regardless of one’s faith or tradition, the holidays represent the perfect time to give thanks to your employees and business partners.   Don’t substitute gift-giving for the opportunity to talk directly with each employee about what you appreciate in them and their service. They will remember what you say long after they have forgotten what the gift was.  

The Golden Rule – This is the time of year when everyone is busy and facing the same work-life pressures. Now is not the time to play favorites. If you treat individuals differently, in terms of leave, flex time, etc., it will create un-needed tensions between individuals or departments.  

So be nice, be fair, have fun, and don’t over-imbibe – these are our best suggestions to help you and your employees celebrate the holiday season in a safe and supportive environment.     
Happy holidays to you from your partners at Affinity HR Group!

Claudia St. John is president of Affinity HR Group, LLC, IIABNY’s affiliated human resources partner.  Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations such as IIABNY and their member companies.  To learn more, visit