21st Century Tips to Holiday Office Parties

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UBS as Bad Santa!Maybe I wouldn’t have been so inspired to write this if I hadn’t been rebuffed by UBS, my husband’s workplace, two years in a row now.

UBS, that beloved multinational banking behemoth, which hit Working Mother’s Top 10 again this year for super companies to work for, hosts mammoth holiday parties every year for their employees.

The catch? No spouses or partners allowed.

Yes, this traditional, cash-flush, suit-and-skirt event — this year held for the Stamford IT crowd at a swinging place on West 46th Street in Manhattan, with return car service included– is off-limits to those people whom, theoretically, the UBS employee actually earns money in the hopes of spending more time with.

This made me cranky when we lived in London, however, I chalked it up to a kind of English “You can’t-see them,-but the-bowler hats-are-still-here-ha-ha” work culture I didn’t understand. I expected, when we got back to America we’d get back on the standard dinner-and-dancing holiday party track. No dice.

Sadly for him, my husband works in computers, so holiday parties for their group, sans spouses, involve him and almost all men, standing around, getting wasted and saying things like: “Man, promising to install an ERP system in two weeks was a real CLM.”

Uh, yeah. Pass the martini shaker, would you?

Holiday Wild

Not that UBS’s “creative” human resource and benefits team doesn’t have a dozen options already available to them. But since they aren’t paying attention, here’s a reminder for them–and for you all– in plenty of time to organize things for next year.

  • Give employees time off during the work day. Let’s face it: if even half of American workers are anything like my husband, they’ll drive themselves into the ground if there is work to do. Planning the party during work hours says “We really do value your time and our own: enough to take time out of the workday and tell you so.”
  • Plan for the party to take place at starting around 3 p.m… after school lets out. This gives employees with families the choice to join in with their kids. It’s also a great time to host a party: things get rolling early and wrap up early, a great consideration in a busy season.
  • Consider a gift back. Why not combine afterwork drinks and hors d’oeuvres with a two-hour community service event? This could be Habitat for Humanity project, cleaning up a local playground, singing carols at a nursing home, or some other team builder that gets you into the spirit… before hammering back the spirits.
  • Be considerate of family, and of singles. Plan an event that takes into account the married and the single. This means ensuring the event isn’t too couple-oriented (a ballroom dance contest might be out), but not completely excluding the people who matter most to your employees: spouses, partners, kids.
  • Give them a choice.Got three great ideas? Offer a survey to your valued workers as you plan. Ask them what they want to do. It’s their party… duh.
  • Break the party down into smaller, community groups. Sure it may be convenient for you to have 10,000 workers in one place, but does your employee feel valued in a group that size? Might as well give them a bottle of tequila and send them home early one day.
  • Stop the lame partying. Traditional parties are boring and a waste of money. They are SO last century. Most people just stand around in the groups they know, hammering drinks and talking about work. Vow to never throw another Christmas party again, without some element of giving or employee involvement. Go green, spend less, have a theme, leave clues in advance… these are the elements of real party initiative!
  • Go active. With smaller groups you have organized, plan for an activity–something that gets them out of their seats and from behind the computer screen! Do a pub caroling and crawl in the neighborhood. Create a scavenger hunt. Rent canoes and row up the river. Don’t worry about liability… that’s what waivers are for!
  • Go local.Think your workers will be thrilled to drive 45 minutes to a location, and then have to worry about getting home after tanking the merry cocktails? Stay in the neighborhood, near public transportation if possible.
  • Think of the “value for fun” quotient. Most corporate party planners just think “good time” without considering the cost. Or they have a budget and try to cram the wrong idea into too small of a number. Remember, holiday parties are about two simple things: 1) celebrating the results of a hard working year and 2) blowing off steam. There are no RULES for fun. Bowling, beer, and pizza, with charity gift cards for everyone might just hit the spot.

Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She teaches and speaks about the rhetorical impact of beautiful writing. A recent transplant to Connecticut, she calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home. 

  5 comments for “21st Century Tips to Holiday Office Parties

  1. Tammy
    December 11, 2007 at 6:35 am

    Yes. I totally agree. If you’re going to have a Christmas party for your employees and NOT invite spouses or family – DO IT DURING WORK HOURS! That way the rest of us don’t feel like we’re not worthy to attend. I understand if you can’t afford to double your budget by adding spouses, but at least do it during work hours.

  2. Tammy
    December 11, 2007 at 6:36 am

    Oh and I agree with you on the other thing – why not take 1/2 a day off to do some good for your local community, then take the other half of the day to celebrate the season? Christmas parties are a way to celebrate your employees, but how about celebrating others as well?

  3. MCTWO
    December 11, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    The “no spouse/partner” rule occurred when my husband had just started at his job. I guess they alternated each year. We hit it on the off year. It really SUCKED sitting at home during it. Pisses me off thinking about it! But thankfully The company seems to be including everyone in the parties now. Or at least the London office does…

  4. Grinder
    December 12, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    WOW – no loved ones?? SUCK!

    We get no bonus and the only party we get is after work at a local bar ON A MONDAY!!! It’s great to be a government employee.

    WAIT – we get a free Pizza party for lunch once a year to show appreciation and a longevity bonus of $25 if we have 15 years in!

  5. mr know it all
    December 12, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    Stop being a victim and let it go. Not everybody gets invited to every party and that’s okay. Stop wanking on their fun because they didn’t invite you. Learn to accept the world as it is not as you’d like it to be and you’ll be a happier person.

    the wizard

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