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Best Practices for Inclusive Workplace Holiday Parties

Workplace holiday parties should allow employees to connect, get to know each other outside of the typical workday, and feel included. Even though most employers have this intention, holiday parties often become the center of workplace conflict and even lawsuits.

Legal action may sound extreme, but post-holiday party lawsuits aren’t rare. They’re so common that the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) titled a 2013 article on the topic, “‘Tis the Season to be Sued”.

Understandably, the potential for workplace holiday parties to go bad often leads employers avoid holiday parties altogether. But if they’re well planned, celebrating with employees has great benefits that are well worth it. A well planned holiday party will increase morale and give employers an opportunity to recognize their team’s hard work.

To plan a holiday party the right way, employers need to ensure that it’s safe and inclusive. Below are seven best practices to ensure that your workplace holiday party is set up for success.

Celebrate Your Workplace Holiday Party with Accessibility in Mind 

If you’re organizing an office holiday party, you’ll likely consider team building activities to help employees interact. While planning, consider whether all employees will be able to participate in an activity. For example, if you host a holiday party that centers around skiing, there may be employees who aren’t physically able to ski.

Here are some tips to help you keep accessibility in mind while planning: 

  • Avoid difficult physical activities.
  • Ask off-site venues if their facilities are ADA accessible. 
  • Invite employees to reach out to HR about accessibility, but don’t single anyone out.
  • Extend existing accommodations to the holiday party.
  • Think about which sensory abilities employees would need for each activity.

Encourage Employees to Come, But Don’t Mandate it 

Companies can advertise any company get-together where all employees are invited, but employees shouldn’t be forced to attend. While encouraging employees to attend, be sure to remind managers and supervisors about not pressuring employees to come, as they may see it as a requirement.

Keep Workplace Holiday Party Activities Secular

To include employees of all religious backgrounds, including non-religious employee, make sure you’re throwing a secular holiday party, also known as a non-denominational holiday party.  To be secular, the party should not include any religious references. 

Religious references can make employees who don’t belong to that religion feel excluded. Depending on the circumstances, it might also violate anti-discrimination laws like Title VII

Common religious references include calling the party a Christmas party and decorating the party venue with religious symbols like a Christmas tree or a menorah.

Be sure to remove religious references from the following:

  • The name of the party. Instead of calling it a Christmas party, call it a holiday party, a New Year’s party, or even an end-of-year party since it might not be the holiday season for every employee. 
  • Activity names. Remove religious names such as “secret santa” from party activities. If you want to do a gift exchange, consider a white elephant exchange, or just re-name the exchange. Also, consider secular activies like trivia or escape rooms.
  • Décor. Confirm that your decorations make no religious references. This might be religious symbols, words, or historical references.
  • Venue. Avoid contracting with a venue associated with a particular religion.
  • Donations. If holiday party involves donating to a cause, consider whether any of the donation recipients are associated with a particular religion and whether non-religious options are also available.

Create an Atmosphere that Encourages New Connections

Workplace holiday parties are great opportunities for team building, but if they aren’t well organized, employees might fall into their usual cliques. Organized activities with randomly chosen team members or cross-department teams will help avoid this and encourage employees to meet new colleagues. 

Are you looking for team building activities for your company holiday party? Consider these: 

  • Trivia. With trivia, employees can compete and collaborate as a team while answering questions in various categories.
  • Scavenger Hunt. Scavenger hunts involve giving teams clues that they must solve in order to get to the next clue until they find the prize. Prizes might include anything from gift cards to workplace perks.
  • Murder Mystery Games. Murder mystery games allow employees to work together to solve a murder. If it’s too morbid for your workforce, you can always choose a different kind of mystery for teams solve.
  • Photo Booth. With a themed photo booth, employees can get creative and make fun group photos to share at the end of the party.

Don’t Overdo the Dress Code

Having a black tie dress code can be a great idea for some workforces. However, if you have employees who aren’t able to afford a black tie suit or gown, they’re much less likely to attend. If you think this might apply to your company, keep dress codes reasonable and similar to your normal workplace dress code. 

Remove Gender Stereotypes from the Dress Code 

Make sure that your workplace holiday party dress code doesn’t explicitly or implicitly ask employees to dress according to gender stereotypes. If employees ask for examples, consider sending photos of just the clothes.

Consider an Additional Virtual Holiday Party

Since COVID-19 hit the United States, millions of employees have started working remotely. Because so many employees are continuing to work remotely, many holiday parties this year will look very different. For some employers, it will make more sense and be more inclusive to host their holiday parties virtually. 

If you move your party online, not only will you be able to include remote employees, but you’ll also avoid new Covid-19 cases and unwanted quarantines.

Below are some great virtual holiday party ideas to get your employees involved, even from afar:

  • Virtual Trivia. Trivia is easy to facilitate during virtual events using video conferencing software. Employees can either create their own trivia or download a trivia application to their phone or computer.
  • Virtual Board Games. During the pandemic, hundreds of board companies took their games online. Classic board games like Scattegories and Pictionary are now available online.
  • Virtual Ugly Sweater Competition. Ugly sweater competitions are easy to facilitate online. Employees will just need to vote using your quiz software of choice.

Always Consult Your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Leader

Whether you’re planning the workplace holiday party on your own or hiring an event planner, keep your DEI leader in the know and consult with them early on. DEI leaders have the expertise and experience to ensure that workplace events, including corporate holiday parties, are inclusive, in-line with your company culture, and compliant. 

If your company does not have a DEI leader, don’t be afraid to reach out to a DEI consultant. DEI consultants are available to help companies by providing general guidance and even facilitating activities at the party.

Remember to Have Fun

Yes, employers have been sued for everything from head injuries to discrimination after celebrating the holidays at work. However, with good planning, unthinkables like discrimation lawsuits are avoidable. 

If you’re worried, you’re not alone. But don’t let it discourage you from using the end of the year to celebrate your employees for their hard work, and above all, have fun together. Your colleagues your will thank you for it!