Steer Clear of Santa

For most companies, the traditional office Christmas party long ago gave way to a “holiday party” out of respect for the various religions and traditions of a multicultural workforce. Some companies have taken the “holiday” out of the ritual altogether, pushing the annual event to January, or planning something earlier in the fall, but those who stick with a December party can create a “holiday neutral” event with winter themes and activities. Consider a snow queen motif, with a sparkling white rose décor, or a fondue party, with a mix of broth, cheese, and desert fondues. Decorating gingerbread houses (in the shape of company headquarters?) is bound to get creative.

Form a Committee

Put together a group of employees from various departments to get input on the holiday party plans. While it might be more work up front, you'll get more ideas and less grumbling about the arrangements in the end.

No Lampshades

Too often holiday parties lead to excessive drinking; this, in turn, can expose a company to liability from dangerous drivers or out-of-line supervisors who get too suggestive with their employees. Legal observers suggest the following steps to keep the holiday party from turning into a disaster: Make attendance voluntary. Remind employees that the company's harassment and substance abuse policies apply to off-site parties. If you serve alcohol, hire professional bartenders, consider a ticket system or cash bar to limit intake, and always have plenty of food on hand. Discontinue alcohol service well before the end of the event, and have transportation available for those who shouldn't drive.

Don't Be a Spouse Scrooge

Holiday parties are a way for employees, clients, and vendors to feel appreciated and part of a community. Inviting the spouse allows him or her to build connections as well. On the practical side, when spouses or significant others are invited, the chances go down that employees will drink to excess (and if they do, they'll have a ride home).

In lieu of

Companies that skip the holiday party or customer gift-giving tradition may choose to contribute to a charity in the name of their employees or clients. Gracious wording of this “in lieu of” gift will help recipients remember the organization's gesture. One option: “In the spirit of the holiday season, a donation has been made in your honor by [name of company] to [name of charity].”

HOLIDAY PARTY 1. (noun) A social gathering typically held in December to celebrate the end-of-year holidays, including Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year.

Sources: Wiley Rein & Fielding LLP, www.wrf.com; partypop.com; The National Federation of Independent Business, www.nfib.com; Special Events Magazine, www.specialevents.com

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