Ideas for alternative work Christmas parties

The work Christmas party can be a talking point among employees for many months, so employers are under pressure to deliver an event that is remembered for all the right reasons.


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  • Work Christmas parties may not suit organisations on a budget, with large numbers of shift workers or for which Christmas is their busiest time of the year.
  • Holding events out of season or on Sunday nights can be more cost-effective.
  • Fitness-based events can tie in to an organisation’s health and wellbeing strategy .

But for some organisations, the Christmas party can be a logistical nightmare, particularly if budgets are tight, the timing has to suit different shift patterns, or the run-up to Christmas is the busiest time of the year and throwing a bash is just not practical.

Here, Employee Benefits has complied top tips for employers looking for alternatives to the traditional Christmas party.

1. Consider fitness-based events.

If budgets are tight, or an employer is simply looking for something different for its workforce, an organised team activity is a good option. These could include dance lessons, or, depending on the organisation’s location, winter walks followed by a meal.

Steve Sutherland, event co-ordinator at Social Circle, says: “A lot of organisations want their employees to be active these days, so being able to offer activity-based events is a new way of looking at things. Look at what’s interesting, fun, interactive and what really engages people. These can be run fairly easily, are low-cost and quite simple.

“If it’s a call centre where employees are young and vibrant with lots of energy, get them doing an upbeat fitness class like Zumba. There are lots of different options depending on what employees are up for.”

Team-based competitions, such as bowling or table tennis, are another option.

Large organisations, where it is not practical to offer one event for all employees, could host a series of activities and allow staff to choose which they would like to do.

2. Hold departmental rather than all-staff events

Holding events on a smaller scale can help to cut costs. For example, an activity or meal out will have smaller overheads than hiring a venue for the entire workforce.

Amina Bentamoune, senior operations manager at Grass Roots Meetings and Events, says: “As budgets have been cut, now organisations are holding departmental parties.”

Smaller, departmental events also work well for shift workers.

3. Team up with other employers

Some traditional corporate Christmas party venues hold mixed-group nights, as well as being available for sole hire. These nights typically comprise a meal, followed by music and dancing. Most are usually themed, for example the 80s or an Elvis night.

As well as being a cheaper option, mixed-group nights may be a solution for organisations with shift working patterns. Rather than having to organise separate events for each of group of shift workers, employers can book the same package for individual groups on different nights to suit their working patterns.

Tim Stevens managing director at Best Parties Ever, says: “One can generally enjoy exactly the same package on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday for half the price of that on a Friday or Saturday.”

Alternatively, local employers could team up to hold a joint event and benefit from economies of scale.

4. Consider the timing of the event

In some sectors, such as retail and hospitality, the pre-Christmas period is one of the busiest of the year, so taking time out to organise and hold a Christmas party is simply not practical.

One option is to hold an event in early November to motivate staff ahead of the pre-Christmas period, or to do so in January as a reward for all their hard work. Holding events outside the traditional Christmas party season can also be more cost-effective.

If organisations still want to hold an event for staff in the run-up to Christmas, the day of the week they choose to do so will be an important consideration. Stevens says many retailers that opt to hold events in December do so on a Sunday night because Sunday trading laws means stores close much earlier than on any other day.

Whatever sector they are in, employers on a budget will also find that holding an event on a Sunday or Monday evening can be much cheaper than on a Friday or Saturday night.

Stevens says: “We’re doing more Sunday night mixed-group parties, where it tends to be £30 [a head] plus VAT for the same package, which would be £59.50 plus VAT on a Friday or a Saturday. Every year, we’re busier on Sundays.”

But if the following day is a normal working day, employers must consider how they will handle employees who overindulge, affecting their work the following day. Offering a slightly later start time, for example, can go a long way towards generating goodwill.

5. Involve staff in event planning

According to research by MetLife, published in December 2013,71% of respondents would rather be given the cash that their employer spends per head on a Christmas party, than the party itself.

Involving employees with the planning, however, can help to boost engagement with the Christmas event. For example, staff that play in a band may want to perform or they could organise events such as a battle of the bands in which they could either participate or support colleagues to create a real sense of camaraderie and fun.

“It’s more about bonding and the team appreciates each other more,” says Grass Roots’ Bentamoune.

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In some cases, this approach may have the added bonus of bringing the event in under budget by using employees’ skills and interests rather than hiring a third party.