How to get the office Christmas party badly wrong

Office Christmas party

Organising the office Christmas party is a mixed blessing, to say the least. While some people love it, most will find it more than a little daunting.

The budget will be too tight; any seating plan will be impossible. Somebody will complain about the food, and someone else will drink the bar dry. Whatever goes wrong, you'll be squarely in the line of fire.

So what are the biggest pitfalls to look out for - and how do you get it right?

Start early
"The CEO threw an evening holiday party at his house, and gave me a half day off to shop for food and drinks, set everything up, and decorate. I did my best but since I was a billing coordinator, not a party planner, it looked a little... askew."

Sort out the guest list
"Since it was written on the master calendar and discussed several times in front of us, the other temps and I assumed everyone was invited. Come the day of the lunch, all of a sudden the regular staff stopped talking to the temps, avoided eye contact and kept whispering amongst themselves. Turns out the temps were NOT invited to their lunch, but no one had the guts to tell us. At lunchtime, the regular staff literally snuck out of the office!"

As the above example shows, it's important to decide on a guest list early on and make sure there are no misunderstandings. Are temporary staff invited? Any clients? And what about employees' partners?

Manage your budget
"This year's Xmas party was $35 a ticket, no meal included and a mandatory Secret Santa gift of at least $25 worth. So $60 to spend time with my coworkers.... Hmmmmm yeah didn't end up going."

How you allocate your budget will depend on everything from the capacity and attractiveness of your office to how much the MD is likely to drink. But do remember to keep a little bit back for any last-minute emergencies.

Pick the right venue
"My colleagues got swiftly, incoherently drunk to escape the awful endless tedium of the cheerless, dim church hall set with banks of trestle tables decorated with Father Christmas paper tablecloths, with five limp balloons bobbing in the draught, under a thin straggle of tinsel forlornly dangling from the roof."

There's no doubt that the right venue can transform an occasion - but the chances are that your budget won't quite stretch to a Park Lane hotel.

If you absolutely have to, you can have the party inside the office. But you'll need to put in a lot of work in terms of decorations and lighting if you don't want things to be too sad.

Better is a local restaurant, or for a larger group a hotel, which should offer you a private room with a meal for a fixed price per head. But think laterally: these days, everywhere from museums to zoos can offer party facilities.

Food and drink
"A place that I worked at about 8 years ago had a huge party. One of the managers brought brownies and the director of operations (let's call him Jack) was the first to try them as we were setting up the food table. About half an hour later, as we were finishing up, Jack starts giggling and talking about how tall he feels. The guy that brought the brownies grabbed the wrong plate as he left the house and accidentally brought pot brownies."

Unless you've got a really big budget, it's probably best to keep the food basic. If you're using the office or just hiring a room, a local Indian or Italian restaurant could fit the bill cheaply.

And it's worth noting here that the most disliked feature of an office Christmas party is often the pay bar. If nothing else, at least try to budget for one free drink per head.

"Between the dinner and dancing they had karaoke. Not volunteer karaoke, though, and this was before karaoke machines were available. Several small groups of people were coerced into going up and singing, handed the words to the songs printed on paper and made to sing a capella in front of the entire room. It was so painful to watch their embarrassment."

Avoid motivational speeches, passive-aggressive 'humorous' award ceremonies and 'sexy' party games.

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