The end-of-year office party. Loved by some, dreaded by others, this annual ritual can easily turn into an awkward social event that no one wants to attend. 

It doesn’t have to be this way, however. With a little thought and some attention to structure and format, your office party can be an event that works effectively to benefit your company’s culture and give everyone a much-needed morale boost. 

There are plenty of good reasons to bring your team together before the holidays – it is a great opportunity to bond, let go of stress, and celebrate the year’s successes. 

But these benefits can only come when the party is a genuinely light-hearted, relaxed, and fun occasion. And we all know how easily “scheduled fun” can backfire, especially in a work context. 

To help you avoid the kind of office party that gets people talking for all the wrong reasons, we’ve put together this short guide to making the holiday party work for you. 


Should You Throw an Office Party at All? 

If your past experience of office parties has been making awkward small talk with people you barely know, watching your colleagues over-indulge at the bar, or simply wasting a perfectly good evening to watch TV at home, you might be wondering if you’d be better off skipping this event altogether this year. 

Wait a moment though because there are some good reasons to embrace this opportunity to bring people together in an informal setting and celebrate the end of the year together. 

Especially after the stress and strain of the past few years, people need opportunities to relax and have fun. Our team members need to come together and chat freely, without the pressure of work tasks and deadlines. And we all need celebrations to reward our hard work and make the stress of achieving them worthwhile. 

Here are some reasons why it’s worth persevering with the annual holiday party: 

  1. It’s an opportunity for team bonding

The more connected the members of your team are, the better they will work together. An office party provides an opportunity for people to have fun together and get to know each other better. 

Even teams that already get along together can benefit from having some time away from their desks to chat and bond in an informal atmosphere. There’s something about the idea of having time that is ‘stolen’ from the working day that can make the holiday party especially good for office bonding. 


  1. It promotes cross-team relationships

The holiday party doesn’t just help immediate team members create closer bonds. During the working year, it’s easy for different teams and departments to drift into siloed work and create their own subcultures within the organization. 

Bringing everyone together at the office party helps to break down those siloes and build cross-team relationships. When you go back to your usual work, those closer relationships make it easier for teams to work together across the whole organization. 


  1. You can recognize hard work

Perhaps one of the most important reasons for holding a holiday party is that it says to employees that their hard work and effort are recognized and deserve a reward. 

According to one survey, 44% of people who are considering changing jobs cite a lack of recognition from management as a reason. So, building points into the year where you can acknowledge your employees’ contributions should help with retention. And the holiday party is a perfect time to make this a priority. 


  1. It relieves stress and tension

There’s a reason that so many cultures have a midwinter celebration. We need these moments of joy and comradeship to help us navigate the darker months and keep our spirits up until spring. 

These annual celebrations have always played an important role in bringing communities together and relieving some of the stress and tension that can result from seeing the same faces every day. And your workplace is a community just like any other. 

Getting to kick back, relax, and have fun with colleagues can help to release some of the stress of work. As the end of the year can often be an especially busy time, it’s important to have moments like this that are more light-hearted. 


  1. It gives your organization a human face

Especially in bigger organizations, it can be easy for upper management and the C-suite to become the faceless bosses up top, with few employees having day-to-day contact with the ultimate decision-makers. But even smaller organizations can benefit from having their leaders show a more human side from time to time. 

The office party is a great opportunity for managers and leaders to get to know employees better and demonstrate that they too have a life outside of work. The relaxed, social setting makes it easier to make connections up and down the hierarchy, bringing the whole company closer together. 


How to Make Your Holiday Party a Success 

We’ve hopefully convinced you not to pull the plug on your company’s end-of-year celebrations. Now, let’s look at how you can make the office party a success. 


Make Managers the Hosts 

Regardless of who actually organizes the holiday party, all managers are expected to attend – and should be primed to act as the hosts, welcoming team members and helping everyone to get involved and feel included. 

This is especially important when you have new hires or staff who normally work remotely in attendance. Managers should expect to be on hand to introduce people to one another and spot anyone who might be feeling left out, drawing them into conversations. 

There’s always a bit of awkwardness at the start of a social gathering as people find their feet. By acting as hosts, managers know that it is on them to get the conversation started, so no one is left floundering for something to say. 


Be Inclusive 

You’ll likely have a wide range of different people in your organization, so it’s important to consider how you can structure your holiday party so that everyone feels included. 

Remember to cater to different dietary requirements. And, if you’re offering alcohol, make sure there are plenty of soft drink options too – and that no one feels pressurized or singled out if they prefer to avoid alcohol. 

Consider your timing too. Evening events might sound fun but can be harder for those with caring responsibilities or long commutes to attend. Keep your party during working hours instead and perhaps aim to finish before your usual going-home time, so employees can get some extra time with their loved ones too. Plus, using “profitable work time” shows you are willing to make investments in your team. 


Include a Meal 

Eating together is a feature of most celebrations for a good reason – sharing a meal is one of the simplest ways for people to connect and bond. A meal also creates a structure for your party and gives people an easy topic for conversation. 

Plus, people are more likely to show up if they know they’ll be well-fed. 

If your budget doesn’t allow you to provide catering for everyone, a potluck can be a great way to get everyone feeling like part of the same team. This does take some advance organization, however, so that you don’t end up with 20 yule logs and no vegetables. Don’t forget to make sure different dietary requirements are catered for too. 

Since not everyone may be able to contribute a dish, you can split responsibility for different courses or dishes between teams. This is another way to encourage team bonding, as they’ll need to work together to agree on who’ll do what. 


Consider an Activity 

Another way to provide some structure and conversational fodder is to have an activity or two for team members to enjoy. An office scavenger hunt, a quiz, or a fancy dress competition are all great options. 

Ideally, put people in teams in advance so that they get a chance to widen the circle of colleagues that they know, and no one feels left out. Doing activities in teams is also a way to help people bond, instead of inviting individual competitiveness. 

Keep the focus fun and light-hearted – this isn’t an opportunity to air your in-jokes or poke fun at colleagues, even if it is well-meant. And allow people to opt-out if they really don’t want to take part. Forced fun isn’t fun at all. 


Involve Remote Workers 

If your team is fully remote, then you can simply take your office party online. Invite people to dress up and join a group video call to celebrate together. 

Again, planning a quiz or online game for people to play together will help to give your online holiday party some structure and avoid the stilted conversation that can come from meeting online instead of in person. 

If you have the budget, you could even send remote workers a little party box to help them join in with the celebrations. Avoid alcohol to keep it inclusive, but consider including party hats, treats, or activity kits that everyone can try together during the event. 

Hybrid teams can be trickier, but it’s important to make sure that everyone feels considered and included. You could take your party online so that everyone can join in, or cover expenses for remote colleagues to join an in-person event at the office. 

Or you can organize a hybrid event where some elements are online. In-person attendees can be paired with remote employees to do activities in teams – perhaps with the remote employee directing the in-person employee in a task. 


Model the Behavior You Expect to See 

Your office holiday party should be a relaxed and fun occasion, but it is also still a professional event. There’s a careful balance to strike between being the fun police and allowing people to behave in ways they might regret the next day. 

As a starting point, managers should expect to model the behavior they’d like to see from the rest of the team. That means being willing to be playful and throw themselves into activities and conversations, but avoiding gossip, unkind heckling, or enjoying the free drinks too much! 

By showcasing what it looks like to enjoy themselves without going wild, managers can provide an important benchmark for how other employees should behave at the event. After all, they are still the company’s leaders and others will look to them to provide guidance on what is and isn’t acceptable at the office party. 


Recognize Achievements 

Most holiday parties are held in December to mark the end of another year. So, this is a perfect occasion to formally recognize some of the most important achievements of the past twelve months. 

This should go well beyond a generic “well done, everyone”. Although you don’t need to hold a full-on Oscars ceremony, it does pay to take some time to acknowledge specific individual and team achievements. 

If your organization is big and acknowledging everyone’s contribution would take hours, concentrate instead on noting team achievements. This can also help to create a more collaborative working culture, as employees know they’ll be recognized more for supporting their team than for individual accomplishments. 

Keep it short and sweet but be specific about what each team has brought to the table and how it has contributed to the company’s success over the past year. 


Make It Part of a Wider Program of Social Events 

Finally, take some of the pressure off the holiday party by making sure it isn’t the only opportunity in your office calendar for team members to socialize and have fun together. 

Many teams find it useful to have events dotted throughout the year. As well as providing more opportunities for team bonding and stress relief, these events make sure that people are used to spending time with their colleagues in a social setting. 

This means your team members are more likely to be able to settle in and enjoy the holiday party without awkwardness. And it takes some pressure off the party – another opportunity will come soon, so no one needs to feel like this is their only chance to make a good impression. 


The office holiday party can be a great opportunity to build team cohesion, recognize the year’s achievements, and allow everyone to relax and have fun. By planning the event so that it is inviting, inclusive, and reflects your office culture, you can make this one of the highlights of the office calendar.