The Gift of Motivation

There are many ways to have a perfunctory holiday celebration. One way, like my company favors, is to send out an invitation to a holiday party at a bar, with a note on the invitation that employees will be expected to buy their own drinks. The first time I saw that it made me laugh because it was a kind of a corporate BYOB.

Another way to give a half-hearted holiday celebration is to serve only drinks and very light appetizers. A previous company I worked for did that. It was funny because the man said to be behind the “menu,” our CEO at the time, was seen racing around the ballroom hungrily looking for food. His own penurious decision had come back to bite him, so to speak.

Yet another option is to offer wine, beer, and soda in the foyer of your building. That occurred a couple of times at the first company I worked for full-time, and it was casual and charming. Since it wasn’t held in a ballroom, or in another venue, there was no expectation that food would be served, and they were generous enough to treat us to wine and beer.

This year, according to a survey from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., companies are planning to spend more on holiday parties. More than 66 percent of respondents (Human Resources executives) to the 2016 Challenger Holiday Party Outlook survey said their companies are hiring caterers or event planners, up from 62 percent last year. Companies also are allowing more guests at their parties: Some 42.9 percent will include spouses, or family, up from 31 percent in 2015.

“After dipping in the last of half 2015, corporate profits are back above $1.6 trillion, according to government data. Our survey suggests that employers are ready to spend some of those profits on their workers,” says John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

As great as holiday parties can be—my sister’s company once sent a car service to pick up each employee and his or her date—they’re even better when you feel motivated to attend. The sometimes-free drinks are nice, but the small talk with co-workers, or a boss, whose company you don’t enjoy can be stressful. Last year, I volunteered to help set up the area of the bar my company had reserved, so I wouldn’t have to walk over, and then be glued, to my boss.

One way to make a holiday party more meaningful is to tie attendance to a charity effort. For example, you could have a box at your party collecting Toys for Tots, or you could ask employees to bring canned food for a community food bank. You also could be creative and ask each employee to bring an ornament for a Christmas tree, and then have everyone decorate the tree. The tree with all the decorations then could be auctioned off for charity, or donated fully decorated to a family in need, who couldn’t afford one on their own.

Another idea is to have a holiday celebration in which part of the day is spent doing charity work, such as one department, or work group, volunteering at an animal shelter together, and then afterward, going out to dinner together to celebrate. If you ask me if I prefer making small talk with my boss or scooping cat litter, I’m going to choose the latter, though, to tell the truth, the two activities have a lot in common.

There also are fun, though educational, activities you can do together. Wisdom Horse, a program I experienced for a “day in the life” article for Training in 2008 is a fun way to spend the day together. Employees and managers learn how to relate and communicate effectively as participants are asked to get horses to follow directions without being physically touched or pulled. This program is based in the Midwest, but there probably are similar programs throughout the country. Equine therapy, as it’s called, seems to be more common now—and an ideal way to celebrate the season.

You can turn a holiday party into an educational reach experience by asking employees to either make up original holiday-themed stories to tell at the party, or to participate in a group improvisational holiday storytelling. The employees would break into groups and then a person in each group would begin to tell a story, which each successive person in the group would have to build on. The corporate training division of famed improv theater Second City, Second City Works, in Chicago, recommends this kind of activity as a way of fostering collaboration skills and creativity. Plus, it probably would end up being pretty funny.

The holidays are a good time for a party, but also a good time to be unexpected and surprisingly interesting. One thing many of us don’t expect at a company holiday party is the gift of not wanting to sneak out the backdoor, or into a tall cocktail glass.

How can you have a holiday celebration that holds employees’ interest, and offers a value-add, such as education, bonding, or a contribution to your community?


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