Kristen Ghergich

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Your office party planning troubleshooting guide

  1. Office parties give colleagues time to relax, eat, drink, socialize, and celebrate together. What could go wrong? Unfortunately, plenty. Chances are, you’ve been to an awkward or uncomfortable office party. More than 50 percent of employees in one survey don’t look forward to their employer’s annual office party.

    But your next company shindig doesn’t need to disappoint. We’re here to help make sure it’s fun for everyone in the office. Read on to uncover the most common problems that plague office parties, and learn how to solve them.

    Your office party planning troubleshooting guide

  2. Solutions to common office-party pitfalls

    Want to make sure your next office party is memorable for all the right reasons? We’ve got fixes for common office-party fails.

  3. The problem: The budget is miniscule.

    We’ve all been to lame conference-room gatherings lit by flickering fluorescent lights and decorated with streamers left over from the last holiday. A posh ballroom bash may not be in your company’s future, but that doesn’t mean you need to cancel your annual soiree. Your party can be a hit even if you toast with paper cups next to the copy machine.

    The solution: Set a budget and track your expenses. Then pick a theme, whether it’s a winter wonderland, costume party, or movie night. That makes it easier to choose music and decorations. Pay attention to elements that can transform a ho-hum gathering into a festive affair including:

    • Lighting
    • Just say no to overhead fluorescents. Bring in lamps, LED candles, or strings of twinkly lights to set a mellow mood.

    • Music
    • The right tunes can transform the vibe of any location. Think you can’t afford live music? Survey your employees. Someone (or someone your employees know) may moonlight as a musician or DJ. If live music isn’t available, let Pandora, Spotify, or another music streaming service be your DJ on your computer speakers.

    • Décor
    • Hit discount stores or thrift shops for details to transform your location. Or if your budget doesn’t allow for shopping, assign a team to get creative and make decorations.

    Your office party planning troubleshooting guide

  4. The problem: People feel left out or offended at the celebration.

    Hiring people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives is good for businesses. Ethnically diverse companies are 33 percent more likely to have above-average profits than companies with the lowest rates of ethnic diversity. Moreover, companies with diverse leadership are 45 percent more likely to report market-share growth.

    But companies don’t only need to focus on improving diversity; they must also put effort into making people feel included. Office parties often highlight differences between racially dissimilar coworkers, according to research conducted by psychological scientists Tracy L. Dumas, Katherine W. Phillips, and Nancy P. Rothbard. That’s because chatting over cocktails tends to bring out differences people may not notice while working together. They may listen to different music, live in different neighborhoods, or spend their weekends doing different activities. Employees who are ethnically or culturally distinct from the majority of their colleagues often feel disconnected after an office mixer, according to the above-cited research.

    The solution: Bring in diverse perspectives when you plan the party. Put the focus on the people you’re celebrating rather than on a specific holiday. Keep party décor neutral. (In other words, skip Santa hats and Christmas trees.) And be cautious about celebrating a culture in a way that oversimplifies or stereotypes it. (For example, stay away from fake mustaches, accents, and sombreros on Cinco de Mayo.)

    Be aware that many people feel uncomfortable mingling at parties. And socializing may be especially daunting for people whose background, tastes, and cultural references are different than the majority of their colleagues. To help bridge differences and make conversing easier, consider adding a little formal structure to the party. Icebreaker games can get people talking.

    Your office party planning troubleshooting guide

  5. The problem: Employees let loose … a little too much.

    Google office party mishaps, and you’ll discover most have something to do with alcohol. You want your employees to have fun, but not too much fun.

    The solution: Whether or not you serve alcohol, make sure it’s not the main attraction at your event. Provide sparkling water, soda, and other non-alcoholic options. Also, consider mixing up mouthwatering non-alcoholic mocktails. And give your employees plenty of non-drinking activities to do. Drinking takes a backseat when people are belting out karaoke, learning to Tango, or oohing and ahhing over a magic show. If you think some employees may drink too much at your event, limit the number of alcoholic drinks available per person, and provide free transportation home.

  6. The problem: The food options are too limited.

    You probably have employees who are dairy-free, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, kosher, and/or nut-free. If they’re munching on rice crackers while everyone else feasts on a gourmet meal, they may not be eager to attend your next soiree.

    The solution: Survey your team about allergies and food sensitivities before the big event. Then offer a diverse range of tasty foods. Build-your-own-food bars are a budget-friendly way to offer something for everyone. Popular themes include build-your-own tacos, burgers, or paninis. Offer substitutes for people with special dietary needs.

    The problem: The event isn’t family friendly.

    Parties are supposed to be fun. You don’t want your employees calling around for weeks looking for a babysitter or cringing as they hand over piles of cash to their sitters at the end of the night. The sad truth? Working parents, especially single parents, often find it difficult to attend after-hours business events.

    The solution: Throw your party during work hours so all employees can attend. If you’re set on an evening or weekend party, clearly state on the invitation who’s invited and who’s not. Ideally, invite employees’ families and provide kid-friendly entertainment, activities, and food choices. Or provide free on-site childcare so your employees can celebrate without the expense and hassle of paying a babysitter.

  7. The problem: Employees feel coerced into attending.

    Forced fun is rarely fun. When employees dread coming to a mandatory work event, it’s terrible for morale.

    The solution: Make everyone feel welcome at your party. But let them know attendance is 100 percent optional, even if the party’s in the conference room during lunch.

    Your office party planning troubleshooting guide

  8. Party time!

    Do your employees look forward to your office party all year? If not, don’t cancel it. Fix it! Use our troubleshooting guide to prevent some of the most common office party fails, and your employees may flock to the break room after your next party to rave about the food, décor, and conversation.

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