office parties
Holly Young

Holly Young

Human Resource Business Partner, HR Service, Inc.

Complete Guide to Planning Office Parties


With the upcoming holiday season comes the season of holiday office parties. These parties can be anything from informal gatherings to extravagant events. Holiday parties provide an opportunity to cultivate employee engagement, help motivate employees and provide good cheer. However, holiday parties can create legal liabilities if employers are not careful. Awareness and careful planning are the best preventive measures an employer can take. Following best practices when sponsoring a company holiday event is the best place to start.

Workplace Guidelines

Office parties and events require a different mindset than the usual workplace activities. The idea is comradery and fun, but this is still a work event and needs to follow workplace guidelines.

Careful Planning

Planning an office event takes careful consideration and time. To make the most of these events, employee participation is essential. Bring employees into the planning to ensure enjoyable holiday parties for all involved. Employee involvement can be as simple as a survey or a party planning committee that includes leadership and employees.


To help organize event planning, set up checklists that ensure all needs are met. These checklists include setting a budget, determining food and entertainment, and planning for potential issues. Making the most of planning requires plenty of time to determine what will make the office event successful.

Set Expectations

Set expectations for employee conduct before the event by distributing a memo or email at least a couple of days in advance. Remind employees that workplace policies, such as harassment and discrimination, still apply, even when events occur outside the workplace.

While the atmosphere for office parties is more casual, it’s best to designate supervisors willing to keep an eye out for potential issues. This is especially important if alcohol is involved.

Make Attendance Optional

Unless the event occurs during the workday, convey to employees that attendance is optional and not a condition of their employment. If the event is outside of work, it should be clear to employees that they will not be compensated for attending and will not be negatively impacted for not attending.

Inclusivity Still Matters

Office parties should ensure that all employees are included. Every employee should get an invite to the party, and activities should remain inclusive for all invited, avoiding overtly religious, political, or divisive undertones. Any entertainment provided should keep all guests in mind, avoiding offensive language or activities.

Consider the Venue

In addition to considering cost when selecting a venue, also consider the safety and access of the location. Ensure that everyone attending the party can access all areas and easily move around to visit with others. It’s also a good idea to consider noise levels and other distractions.

Offer Activities or Entertainment

Successful office parties require more than just gathering everyone together. A lack of planned activities or entertainment can result in awkwardness, with employees sitting or standing around without direction.

Activities don’t have to be elaborate. Games, photo booths, dancing, and awards or prizes are simple and effective to help liven the party up. Keep in mind that each employee is different, and plan multiple activities if necessary to ensure all can be included.

Alcohol Considerations

If you decide to serve alcohol, be sure to put safeguards in place:

• Put a system in place to limit alcohol served and avoid underage drinking. This can include a wristband, ticket, or voucher system linked to the employee.
• Limit the type of alcohol served to beer and wine.
• Provide non-alcoholic alternatives.
• Tell the wait staff/bartender to refuse to serve anyone visibly intoxicated and to alert someone if an employee becomes a problem.
• Put a system in place that keeps employees from driving under the influence.
• Require a waiver and understanding of responsibility for those who drink during the event.

Dietary Restrictions

When planning events, ask about allergies and other dietary restrictions. If unsure, consider sending a survey or asking employees to provide information about their dietary needs. Plan menus to include alternative selections that meet these dietary needs. If unsure about any restrictions, consider providing alternatives in case.

Set Policies to Meet Your Company’s Needs

From office parties to everyday workplace activities, providing a safe and inclusive environment is essential for the comfort of everyone involved. It’s up to leadership to ensure work activities of all kinds maintain professionalism.

Providing and enforcing policies maintains this professionalism while providing a safe workspace for all employees. One place to provide guidelines, including office event policies, is through your employee handbook.

If you are unsure about how to develop policies that meet your company’s cultural needs, contact HR Service Inc. to get started.

Additional Reading

Inclusive language in the workplace

Inclusive Language in the Workplace

Inclusive Language in the Workplace: Inclusivity During Holidays As the holiday season approaches, workplaces often buzz with excitement, festive decorations, and celebrations. While this time ...
Read More →
Skills Gap Navigation

Do You Have a Skills Gap Crisis?

Addressing the Skills Gap in the Workforce Due to many changes over the past few years, the U.S. workforce is facing a widespread skills gap. ...
Read More →
Scroll to Top