How To Organise An Inclusive Office Party – Ten Tips
EW Group’s Operations Director, Anna Arbuthnot looks at ways to organise an inclusive office party that strengthens team bonds and makes sure that everyone is, and feels, included.
Love it or loathe it, one of the traditional office party seasons is just around the corner and the pressure to organise an inclusive gathering is a real concern. After all, it’s an event that many employees look forward to, as they can relax, celebrate the year’s successes and enjoy spending time with colleagues informally. But for some staff, it can be an event that triggers feelings of stress, anxiety and nervousness.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of what to plan for the office party that the potential issues that the event could cause are overlooked. As a manager, it’s important to ensure that these kinds of events are enjoyable, accessible and inclusive for all of the team.
Being aware of the potential pitfalls will help, so here are our ten tips to ensure that this year you organise an inclusive office party – or series of celebrations – that are stress-free and enjoyable for everyone.
1. Choose the right name, give the right impression
In some cultures, the Christmas Party is typically the one time in the year when everyone from the company gets together socially. This generally happens at the end of the year, around Christmas – hence the name – but often and for many, the party will have very little to do with a religious or spiritual activity.
Some organisations have started to call these events ‘festive’ or ‘holiday’ parties to make them more inclusive for all religions. After all, they’re essentially about all employees coming together to interact, be social and celebrate your achievements for the past year, rather than around any one theme.
2. Lead by example, make sure everyone feels included
As managers, we lead by example and others are looking to us to see how we respond and behave in these social situations. Of course, you’re not there to police all the employees, but it is your responsibility to ensure that everyone is (and feels) included, that the environment is accessible, relaxed and that everyone can enjoy the event. Be sure to look out for and proactively involve those employees who are not necessarily part of ‘in-groups’, new starters and who may be on the side lines of the social interactions taking place.
If you’d benefit from leadership coaching, our Inclusive Leadership training will help to develop your managerial skills.
3. Enjoy responsibly
The main focus of the party should not be alcohol. Your employees shouldn’t feel pressured into drinking by anyone and different options should be available for all. Research has identified a rise in teetotalism, where an increasing number of people in the UK for example are avoiding alcohol, especially among younger groups. Similarly, a Gallop study in 2021 found that fewer adults in the USA are drinking alcohol today, and those who do, are consuming less than they have in the recent past. Many of your team may be a part of these statistics – so this should be respected. The office party is an event that you want your colleagues to speak positively about the day after rather than hide with embarrassment after drinking too much.
The party is a perfect opportunity for those who have worked hard together all year to let off some steam and continue building those social connections with colleagues. But from a health and wellbeing perspective, it’s important that you set the tone for behaviour and what is acceptable. This is a skill that is developed in our Wellbeing Practices courses, a crucial ability for managers to create a positive workplace culture around mental health and wellbeing.
Office parties become infamous for a reason: this is a time when situations can get out of control. That’s why many organisations are holding end-of-year parties not solely centred on alcohol and are instead choosing other ways to celebrate, for instance, by arranging day-time activities, throwing a festive lunch in the office, or sending their team on an escape room challenge.
4. Consider more inclusive scheduling
Holding your office party in the evening – or late into the night – often means it may in practice exclude those with child-care, caring, other out-of-work responsibilities or those who prefer not to have late evenings. For some, the event could cause anxiety around how they’re perceived by others. “Will I be talked about if I’m not there?” is a very likely source of concern. Many employees will stress about missing the office party – not wanting to be dismissed as “not a team player” or “committed to their job” by their colleagues.
Holding an event at lunchtime or in working hours gives everybody in the team the opportunity to attend and actively participate. The big night doesn’t always have to be a big night, after all.
5. Is December the best time for the ‘big one’?
We’ve often held our ‘big’ annual party in the summer. Weather tends to be warm and sunny which has enabled us to do things outdoors – combining social activities with fresh air! And there is less diary pressure for everyone. And you will often find more options for your venue and activities as things are not as booked up as during December. It can also act as the perfect mid-year treat to recognise achievements to date and to motivate everyone for the second half of the year.
6. Inclusive office parties could be smaller & more frequent
If your organisation only has one ‘big night’ per year, it can be built up into a ‘big’ thing. Smaller, more frequent social events allow for your employees to bond without the pressure of the big night. Volunteering days, for example, are a great way for colleagues to bond outside of the office. Consider celebrating smaller but frequent events to make all of your employees feel recognised and valued.
Our Diversity and Inclusion training is an ideal opportunity for your organisation to listen and converse with our diversity-specialist consultants who will be able to help improve your company’s inclusivity.
7. Think about other events you could also celebrate
December is usually a time when all our diaries are taken up with events, parties and celebrations. But, of course you don’t have to be religious to get in the festive mood. There are other religious holidays – such as the start of the Hindu New Year at Diwali, the Jewish festivals of Hanukkah or Rosh Hashanah and the Muslim celebrations at Eid al-Fitr – which can often go unrecognised in the workplace.
Paying tribute to wide variety of religious holiday and other calendar dates, such as Black History Month or LGBT Pride Month, will also make for a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture that isn’t solely based around one form of socialising. Consider finding out what employees or team members would like by running an online survey – give them a chance to have say and you may be surprised by the wealth of enjoyable and inclusive ideas you receive.
Our inclusive cultures training courses will help if you’d like to learn more about taking account of identity and barriers to inclusion, and help you to plan an inclusive office party.
8. Don’t forget to include geographically distributed team members
During the COVID lockdowns we all had to find ways to feel included and stay in touch with our teams and colleagues. Through much ingenuity and creativity many of the online parties and events that companies organised were surprisingly successful. Employees who were located around the country – or in different countries – or had other barriers to access, were able to fully participate.
One of our favourites was a pottery making class. Pottery kits were distributed to all ahead of time and we then enjoyed an online workshop of turning the clay into a variety of items – some more successful than others! So if you have a distributed team, drawing on what we learned from team morale during the pandemic, an online event can be a great way of creating an inclusive office party where all the team can join in, regardless of access challenges and location.
9. Consider the costs
Financial wellbeing is one of the most likely causes of stress for your employees, especially with the spiralling cost of living. Throwing an expensive event paid for by the company may not go down well during times when there are, for instance, head-count or salary freezes in place. For others, attending your big event may bring increased pressure to buy new outfits, babysitters or overnight accommodation, so do consider this as part of your planning.
One way to help make your office party inclusive is to think about the location and how accessible it is for all – has it got good transport link, can employees get home easily? This can be especially important if you are not based in a metropolitan area with good transport links. Or when home time is late and employees feel vulnerable travelling at night. This might make all the difference as to whether someone can join in the celebrations or feel excluded.
You might want to think about running a smaller event and perhaps take the opportunity to give your employees a small thank you gift to show appreciation for all their hard work. Extravagance does not necessarily equate to throwing the best staff party.
10. Don’t forget to enjoy yourselves
Nothing is worse than attending the office party and feeling unable to let your guard down due to your manager’s presence. They can make staff feel that they must be in ‘work mode’ and on their best behaviour. By letting your guard down and socialising as a colleague, rather than as a manager or leader, your team will feel more relaxed and likely enjoy the event much more. And besides, managers are humans and should also be part of the fun too!
These small considerations can have a big impact in making sure that your festive office party is inclusive, relaxed, and successful event for all.