8 tips for celebrating the holidays in the workplace

December 2, 2023

The holidays are upon us, and workplaces have begun celebrating. This can be a great time of year for cheer with coworkers, but not everyone celebrates and some employees over-imbibe at the holiday events. Here are eight tips to make this time of year work for all employees:

1. Celebrate the holidays. While some may not observe Christmas, Hanukkah or other religious holidays this time of year, there is no reason that the workplace shouldn’t enjoy holiday festivities which brings joy to many people. Workplaces can decorate with trees, lights and wreaths. Even the Supreme Court has held that such decorations are not “religious” and therefore can safely be displayed even in government buildings.

2. Don’t make celebrations mandatory. Some people don’t celebrate this time of year, while others simply don’t enjoy parties or social time with coworkers. It’s all good. Let them do them, and you do you.

3. Set the rules for the office parties where alcohol is served. The same policies on civility, harassment and workplace conduct apply at work activities during the workday and after hours. Too often, employees view the office party as a chance to let loose and drink it up with coworkers. While it’s not an issue to serve alcohol, organizations should offer tickets or have an external bartender who is making sure no one is overserved.

4. Rethink dance floors. I feel the same way about dancing with coworkers as I do about pool parties where coworkers wear bathing suits — I’m not a fan. It’s very intimate, personal and can cross boundaries. It’s off-putting for many people to be asked by a coworker (or worse — a boss) to dance. Also, do you really want to see Al from accounting twerking on the dance floor? You can’t unsee that. Consider whether having a dance floor at the office party is worth the risk.

5. Invite a plus one to parties. Invite and even encourage a plus one to after-hours work parties. While this increases the cost, it reduces the likelihood of sexual misconduct, someone getting handsy or a drunk hookup between coworkers that can lead to claims of harassment, harm to others and expensive litigation.

6. Gift down not up. Managers can give their employees a small gift (usually under $20) if they choose, but should not expect a gift from their employees. The gift should not be intimate or too personal. The general rule is that gifting goes down the chain of command — not up. Gifting in the workplace puts strain on many people who are already stressed about funding their holiday. Managers could suggest a pot luck in lieu of gifts, or even better managers can bring in food to serve for the team.

7. The best gift is time. Employees would love a few extra hours to do shopping and catch up on their holiday plans. If possible, surprise employees with a few hours off on a Friday afternoon. This would be a welcome gift. Understandably, this doesn’t work for all workplaces.

8. Offer resources. The holidays can be a very difficult time for many people who may experience depression and anxiety due to loss and stress. Most employers are already paying for an Employee Assistance Program through their health plan. Reach out to the EAP and find specific free resources to offer employees, and then remind employees of the availability of EAP.

I recently talked to an employee who said she reached out to EAP and could not get an appointment for a month. This is unacceptable. Advise your employees to let you know if there are issues with accessing resources.

With a little bit of planning and setting expectations, workplaces can be fun and cheerful this holiday season.