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Wednesday, 03 December 2014 23:14

Holiday party etiquette: Small business owners should plan ahead, budget for team-building holiday events

Written by  Jill Hinton
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It’s that time once again when small business owners look to reward employees for all the hard work they’ve done during the year.

Often, that reward comes via the holiday office party. Even though many small businesses may not look to spend a ton of cash for elaborate affairs, having an office party gives employees a chance to bond, sources said. As companies enter the last few weeks of the year, there are a few items to keep in mind when planning the annual office party.

Experts recommend planning ahead and starting with the basics to ensure the event succeeds in rewarding employees for their work and in bolstering team-building efforts.

Start by outlining the scope of the event.

“Figure out how many people you’re going to have and try to give the invitations out as soon as possible,” said Kaci Muller, owner of Just Delightful Events LLC, an event planning and design company in East Grand Rapids. “Try to get the invitation out at least two weeks early.”

People need to plan for babysitters and other issues, so the more lead time a business can give its employees, the better, she said. Muller also recommends not planning your holiday party for a Friday or Saturday night, and if possible, making sure everyone gets an invitation.

“My husband never gets invitations to me, so try to send it to everyone who’s invited, just in case some people aren’t so good at relaying information like dates and times,” she said.

Other considerations include being sure to communicate what type of dress is expected because you don’t want some people showing up in sweaters with light-up Rudolph noses while others don sleek formal wear, Muller said.

Then comes the question of whether or not to serve alcohol. The main consideration with serving alcohol is that it can lead employees to doing things they normally wouldn’t do.

As Phyllis Diller once said, “What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.”

Office parties are notorious for bad behavior due to overconsumption, so consider making the event booze-free, or if you do serve drinks, limit it to beer and wine, which are easier than sweet punch drinks for employees to gauge how much they’ve consumed, sources said.

For hosts and attendees, the best advice is moderation. Still, the boss should probably limit drinks to only one — which is good (if boring) advice.

“Get something like a rum and Coke or gin and tonic for your first drink, then stick to plain Coke or tonic after that,” wrote the Boston Globe’s Miss Conduct columnist Robin Abrahams for a report last year. “This way no one will know how much you’re not drinking.”

With the guest list and alcohol questions answered, the next step for companies is to find a venue.

The easiest way to plan a party is to simply call around to local restaurants that would be an appropriate venue for your corporate culture, Muller said, noting that dive bars are generally a bad idea for office parties.

Make sure to book the venue early enough so that costs aren’t out of control, she added.

“Start with a budget, (then) figure out how many people you’re going to have,” Muller said. “If you have a smaller group and you want to keep it simple, just call a restaurant and see if you can book their banquet space and set up a limited menu.”

Limiting menu items to two or three entrees for employees to choose from can help control costs “so people aren’t ordering prime rib,” Muller said. Offering a limited menu also helps the kitchen be more prepared for your group, she said.

Additionally, the office party is often paired with giving some sort of gift or bonus to employees.

When it comes time for companies to decide whether to give a bonus or gifts, small business owners must keep in mind that whatever they gave in the past serves as a benchmark for what they should think about giving this year, sources said.

Employees have long memories when it comes to remembering what their companies gave them the year before. Thus, it’s important for companies not to set employees up for disappointment by drastically reducing the value of the year-end gift.

If bonus checks are going to be small – or even smaller than expected – it could better to give an actual gift that’s appropriate for a company’s corporate culture, sources said.

Business owners need to make sure the gift is something that everyone would appreciate. A bottle of decent-quality wine is a good way to go, as are movie tickets, gift certificates for local restaurants or a picture frame for employees’ desks, for example.

Above all, business owners hosting holiday parties need to ensure that they include everyone in the office, and even ask for employees’ input in the planning process.

The best company parties also have a laid-back atmosphere, and that includes limiting talk about work projects, Muller said. She suggests letting employees out of work early on the night of the party as a goodwill gesture that gives employees time to go home and relax and get ready.

The right holiday party can give employees the opportunity to connect and build relationships outside the cubicle or shop floor, with the goal of helping everyone work together more effectively, a win for both productivity and communication, she said.

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