The Holidays May Be About Kids, But Should They Be at the Company Party?

Dana Wilkie By Dana Wilkie December 13, 2019
The Holidays May Be About Kids, But Should They Be at the Company Party?

​Year after year, your company's holiday party is for employees only. Their kids aren't invited.

This year, you'd like to try something new and welcome workers' children to the event. So, what are the pros? What are the drawbacks? What will the kids do? Are there liability concerns? Might childless workers feel left out? Should you maybe drop the idea?

"The most important part of planning a holiday party is listening to your employees," said Loni Freeman, vice president of human resources at public relations agency SSPR, which invites all workers' children to holiday parties. "What type of holiday party makes them feel like celebrating? For us at SSPR, we love getting to know our employees' children, and our culture is the more, the merrier.  We are a family-friendly workplace, and our holiday parties reflect that culture."

There are upsides to inviting kids to workplace holiday parties, and there are downsides.

"Opening the holiday party invitation to employees' families, including their children, makes it more likely that they will be able to attend the event as they won't have to worry about hiring a sitter or making other arrangements for the evening," said Zaria Zinn, celebration expert for Evite, the online-invitation company. "It also serves as a rare way for employees to further their relationships among one another and connect on a more personal level by introducing one another to the people who mean the most to them."

At the same time, she noted, having younger children at a workplace party can be tricky when it comes to concerns around things like alcohol and staying up past bedtimes.

"You may want to consider having the event take place during the day rather than in the evening," she suggested.

What Will They Do?

 Keep in mind that if your company holiday party includes children, it's important to have kids' activities. 

 "It's no fun to be a kid at a grown-up party," Freeman said. "Kids love dancing, crafting and cookie decorating. It's not expensive. Kids love inexpensive snacks, and a quick trip to any craft store can supply hours of great fun. Of course, if your organization wants to roll out the red carpet for the kids that's also great, but you don't need to spend enormous amounts of money to make kids happy.  Kids can have fun just building a fort with cardboard boxes and then coloring it." 

Lynnette Holsinger, SHRM-SCP, is president of the HR Florida State Council, a SHRM state affiliate. She points out that there are companies, like Kid's Nite Out in Orlando, that "set up for special events like conventions and workplace parties to watch multiple kids and incorporate more of a group dynamic."

"The kids have their own special event while the adults can enjoy a night out," she said. "It's a win-win."

Find out the ages of the children attending and create age-appropriate activities, Freeman said. 

"Making an ornament, Santa visits or holiday games are all good places to start. Don't assume kids will entertain themselves. Make it easy for parents to have fun and mingle while their children are engaged in fun holiday activities." 

 [SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing and Sustaining Employee Engagement]

An Exclusive Kids' Invitation List

Sometimes, workplace experts said, a company doesn't invite workers' children to a holiday party, but the CEO brings his or her small children to the event.

"He or she may be wanting to show their child the company that he or she is proud to be running," Zinn said. "Or, the CEO may want to give colleagues a window into his or her home life."

Whatever the reason—and this happens more often at company parties than you might think, workplace experts said—HR leaders should caution against it.

"I do not think the CEO or company owner who hosts a holiday party for employees should bring his or her children unless they were to invite the other employees' children," said Greg Musto, CEO of the Roman Healthcare Group, a recruiting firm in Chattanooga, Tenn.  "I think it sends a [bad] message."

At SSPR, Freeman said, "we work under the principle that what applies to one, applies to all. Inviting only children [whose parents have] certain job titles doesn't feel inclusive or what the holidays are about. Excluding some kids while allowing others isn't living our values. Everyone matters here and so do their children." 

Holsinger, however, noted that the appropriateness of a CEO inviting his or her own kids to a holiday party depends on the company culture.

"Does the CEO bring his or her kids into the office on a regular basis?" she asked. "Are other kids welcome in the office year-round? Is the CEO a single parent? How old are the children?"


And some say having children at a workplace party isn't a good idea at all.

"Children should not be at a workplace party," Musto said.  "The only rationale I can see for taking one's minor children who do not work for the company is for something like entertainment perhaps—maybe they sing or play music" for the adults.

Debbie Noschese is senior vice president for Keystone Partners, an HR consultancy based in Boston and Chicago. She notes that company holiday parties are typically held in the evenings and should be a time for workers to relax and enjoy their colleagues.

"Adult conversations will take place and may not be appropriate for kids' ears, nor would they be interested," she said. "Since adult beverages are [likely] served, there could be liability issues by having kids on the premises. It opens the company to employee-relations issues if inappropriate behavior occurs while under the influence, or if a child gets hurt. Unfortunately, some adults don't change their conversations or behaviors while in the presence of children."

If the company wants employees meet one another's families, a separate family event might be appropriate, she said.

"Maybe a summer picnic during the day, or a daytime holiday event with festive activities for the children. Activities could include pony rides, arts and crafts, jump houses, races, tug of war." 



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