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How to Avoid Holiday Party Disasters

Date: December 14, 2012

Let loose without losing it with these tips on hosting a fun and professional event.

Small Business Holiday Survival Tips

A company’s annual holiday party is often a notoriously wild event. Combining after hours socializing, a party atmosphere and alcohol can have disastrous results for business owners. Find out how to keep your holiday parties professional and fun.

Set the tone.

Greg Detter, Vice President of The Creative Group, a staffing agency for advertising and marketing professionals in Menlo Park, Calif., surveyed more than 750 professionals in and asked for their most outrageous holiday party stories. Respondents’ stories included property damage, injuries, brawls, and career-ending rants.

These types of antics can be easily avoided by setting a professional tone, says Detter. “Set a good example. Employees frequently take cues from their managers, so it's important that they behave appropriately and set limits,” he says.

Clearly define expectations.

Some embarrassing incidents were caused by simple misunderstandings, including employees who dressed inappropriately or invited their entire families to a small plus-one event. “Be clear about black-and-white issues like dress code, what's going to be taking place when you're there and the invite list,” says Detter.

Above all, be clear that while this is a social event, it’s also a business function. “Make sure everyone is aware, company events are for socializing, but it's still a business event, and people are expected to act appropriately and professionally.”

Limit alcohol.

It’s no surprise that some of the biggest disasters at holiday parties usually involve alcohol. “The crazy stories are funny and outlandish, but some of the things people will do when they let their inhibitions down isn’t surprising,” Detter says.

Business owners walk a fine line between allowing their employees to let loose and have fun and opening themselves up to liability or embarrassment.

Detter suggests instituting a drink ticket policy. If employees are limited to one or two drinks, the potential for excessive intoxication is much lower, and costs will also be more reasonable. Another option is simply limiting the amount of alcohol provided to the group. “If you limit how many drinks someone is able to have, that might not be well received, but you can place limits on how much you provide,” he says.

Celebrate during business hours.

Holiday parties can be an expensive hassle for employees, says David Render, chief operating officer of AccountMate Software Corporation in Petaluma, Calif. Employees often feel obligated to buy new dress clothes, and they must give up a Friday or Saturday night, travel to the venue and sometimes find a babysitter. To avoid these hassles, Render and his partners host a catered holiday luncheon for employees only. No alcohol is served, but gourmet food is provided. Because the party is held during business hours, it also keeps things more professional. “We think it's important enough that we'll do it on our time and our dime,” he says.

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