Fa La La La Blah: When Employees Find Workplace Holiday Parties Boring, Obligatory

New York City and LA have the fun soirees; Minneapolis’ and Des Moines’ are a drag

Dana Wilkie By Dana Wilkie November 20, 2017
Fa La La La Blah: When Employees Find Workplace Holiday Parties Boring, Obligatory

​Showing up feels obligatory. The conversations are superficial and forced. The food is so-so. The activities are hokey. The atmosphere's way too tame.

Only about a third of office workers describe workplace holiday parties as entertaining, while about the same amount say they're anything but, according to a new survey from staffing firm OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company based in Menlo Park, Calif.

"A successful holiday party really starts with the culture of the company," said John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "Employers should pay attention to morale throughout the rest of the year. Does the company regularly communicate with their workforce? Do they acknowledge accomplishments of their workers, both professional and personal? Do they celebrate diversity and inclusion? Do they welcome new ideas and creativity? If the culture is typically positive and one that clearly values employees, workers will want to celebrate together at the end of the year."

The survey of workers was developed by OfficeTeam and conducted by an independent research firm. It includes responses from more than 2,700 workers 18 years of age or older and employed in office environments in the United States.

Coastal Cities Are Where the Fun's At

Respondents were asked to rate their parties on several factors—for instance whether it was entertaining, lavish or boisterous—using a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "not at all" and 5 being "extremely." The survey considered those answering with a 4 or a 5 as collectively having responded positively and those answering with a 1 or a 2 as collectively having responded negatively.

  • Thirty-six percent of professionals said their holiday parties are entertaining, while a nearly equal percentage (35 percent) gave their parties a thumb's down.
  • Slightly more than one-quarter (27 percent) said they feel the year-end bashes are obligatory; 48 percent don't.
  • Sixteen percent categorized their soirees as lavish or extravagant. Sixty-two percent said they aren't.
  • Fifteen percent view their events as "rowdy" or "boisterous," while 65 percent consider the events tame.  

New York City, Miami and Los Angeles have the most fun parties, as well as what workers described as the most "extravagant." New York City and Los Angeles also have what workers called the most "boisterous parties."

Most Fun

Least Fun

  1. New York

  1. Minneapolis

  2. Miami

  2. Des Moines

  3. Los Angeles

  3. Philadelphia

  4. San Francisco

  4. Indianapolis

  5. Washington, D.C.

  5. Cleveland

  6. Austin (tie)

  6. Cincinnati

  6. Charlotte (tie)

  7. Seattle

  6. Houston (tie)

  8. St. Louis

  6. Phoenix (tie)

  9. Detroit

10. Boston (tie)

10. Dallas

10. Chicago (tie)

Despite all the fun they seem to have, Los Angeles party-goers also reported feeling the most pressured of workers in any city to attend holiday work events, followed by those working in Phoenix.

The least fun work parties? Those would be in Minneapolis, Des Moines, Iowa, and Philadelphia, according to the survey. The least extravagant? Again, Des Moines and Philadelphia, followed by Raleigh., N.C.

Party-Planning Bloopers to Avoid

Brandi Britton, a district president for OfficeTeam, said companies often make mistakes that can dampen the workplace party mood.

Scheduling, for instance, can be a sticking point. For instance, many companies plan parties during weekend evenings in November and December, which can be a busy time for workers who may be shopping, decorating or attending personal holiday events.

"It's hard to find a time when everyone's available, especially with large groups," she said. "Poll your staff to see which dates work best for the majority." She added that scheduling events during business hours makes it easier for workers to attend.

Organizing and announcing a party at the last minute can also quell attendance, she said. "Get the word out early," she said.

Consider making it clear that attendance at the party is voluntary. While some companies may expect their workers to show up, know that "there's something about a mandatory party that can rub people the wrong way," Challenger said.

Another mistake, Britton said, is planning party activities that are outdated, hokey or boring.

"Workers should provide feedback on what they would find enjoyable and could also volunteer to help with planning," she said.  

In fact, she said, it's a good idea to ask your workers for input on other things, like the party venue and the food.

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Takes Two to Tango

Britton said it's just as important for a company to suggest to employees how they can make the party a success. Among her suggestions for workers:

  • Mix and mingle. Socialize with coworkers outside your usual circle. These celebrations are an opportunity to meet people you don't work with every day.
  • Curb shoptalk. This is your chance to get to know colleagues in a social setting, so don't make it all about business. Conversation starters can include people's holiday plans or New Year's resolutions.
  • Don't be a scrooge. Though holiday time can be stressful for some, keep your discussions positive and upbeat. Avoid controversial topics such as politics and gossip.
  • Limit libations. 'Tis the season to party, but not too hard. Drink in moderation and remember holiday parties are still work functions.

"Alcohol always has its pitfalls," Challenger said. "Our annual holiday survey shows that nearly 62 percent of employers planned to serve alcohol at last year's events, up from 41 percent in 2014. While imbibing a cocktail or two can make an event more festive, overindulging can have major negative consequences, for workers and employers. If you plan to serve alcohol, make sure your bartender can spot when someone has had one too many. Perhaps feature a signature cocktail that's heavy on the mixer."

Finally, Britton said, it isn't necessary to have a big budget to throw a successful holiday party. Even simple activities can boost morale and camaraderie. A potluck lunch or volunteer event can be just as entertaining as a black-tie gala.

"A potluck is a great way to get workers involved and save some money," Challenger said. "It's likely you'll find people in your workforce who enjoy cooking and baking. You can also serve soft drinks instead of alcohol, have the party on the premises, and serve lunch instead of dinner."

Activities that encourage staff interaction—maybe a talent show or trivia games—can spark friendly competition.

Employers can also show appreciation by giving workers extra days off, allowing them to leave the office a little early during the holidays, or using the party to recognize employees for their work throughout the year.

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