How to Maximize A Holiday Party on a Limited Budget

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Whether you love them, hate them (or regard them with complete indifference), holiday celebrations are an undeniable reality of many company cultures. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas — when the silly season hits, work life can seem like a relentless parade of tinsel, paper plates and sensibly casual slacks.

Which begs the question, why do we do it? Do these celebrations serve a deeper purpose? Or are they best simply gotten rid of when the company budget gets tight? Most importantly, if we do keep the holiday traditions, how do you get the best bang for your buck on a limited budget?

Here’s our take on these holiday imponderables.

Why Have Holiday Celebrations at All?

It’s a fair question. Let’s face it, while there are going to be some people in any company who live for the next corporate shin-dig, a lot of people regard these events with something approaching disdain. The fact is, arguments about opportunity cost and corporate austerity aside, holiday celebrations are just a very human thing to do.

Sure people might gripe about it, but it brings people together. They provide an opportunity for colleagues to step away from the daily grind and just … hang out as people. It’s an emotional rationale sure, but there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the fact that we aren’t just faceless work droids from time to time.

Setting the feely, touchy stuff aside though, there’s also a very tangible reason holiday celebrations are a good thing. They reinforce loyalty and cohesion and they improve engagement.

A recent Gallup analysis of workplace productivity found that companies with a highly motivated and engaged workforce outperformed rival companies by 147 percent in earnings. Flipping that coin, the estimated cost of a disengaged workforce is between $450 and $550 billion, annually.

Are holiday celebrations the magical ingredient which makes engagement happen? Well, no. However, they are definitely one small part of what keeps people together and motivated to be part of a greater whole.

The bottom line: holiday celebrations are important, even if you’re on a tight budget.

Holiday Celebrations on a Budget

So, if you buy the argument that we shouldn’t dispense with them altogether, how can we make holiday celebrations worthwhile when money is a limiting factor?

The key here is to keep the company eye on the collective prize. Building loyalty and engagement is the goal here – not opulence or (brace yourself) “optics”.

Here’s three ways to make that happen.

1. Reinforce a Sense of Kinship

A holiday celebration is an opportunity to recognize the human experience of working within the company. This needn’t and shouldn’t be heavy handed.

It can be as simple as managers mingling not with a view to “networking” and instead opening up conversations about highs and lows. What was fun these last few months, and what … well … sucked.

On a slightly more nuts and bolts level, getting all staff (rather than the dreaded party committee) involved in decorations and music can be a great way to build a sense of kinship while simultaneously saving costs on DJs and catering. Win win!

2. Get People Talking

Making a holiday hootenanny an opportunity for everyone to speak and be part of a conversation also reinforces the idea that we’re all in this together. Again, this needn’t be organized or choreographed. In fact, only the most die hard of extroverts among us likes big group “ice-breakers”. Most introverts hate them.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t find structured low-key opportunities to get people talking. Tables could be set up with trivia or other questions, for example. The room can be set up in a way which encourages different sets of people talking. Managers could even try to introduce people who might not normally talk to one another.

None of this costs money. It just requires encouraging folks to open up.

3. Be Inclusive

To build loyalty, it isn’t necessary to wow people with lavish options. But you do need to show that you’ve listened to their preferences. Being sure to give participants the opportunity to express their tastes, dietary restrictions, and family requirements is a big step toward showing them they’re genuinely welcome and valued. In fact, it’ll likely go a lot further than fancy appetizers and drinks with umbrellas.

Getting the best bang for your buck from a holiday celebration may be as simple as spending a bit of time up-front identifying what people actually want, rather than pulling the trigger on a fancy caterer or opulent event location.

A Few Things to Avoid

It’s probably worth mentioning a few things to avoid if you’re trying to create a fun and inclusive holiday celebration on a budget.

1. Avoid Lots of Alcohol

Most would agree a bit of drinky goodness is fine, but a lot is a) expensive and b) unlikely to produce a memorable experience. Instead of using alcohol as a social lubricant, focus instead on creating a fun and relaxing environment. Good music and good food go a long way!

2. Don’t Make It Too Formal

If you do have seating arrangements, find an opportunity to mix it up. Generally, we tribal humans have a tendency to stick within our own cliques. The more formal and structured the party, the more likely that is to happen.

Comfortable, open seating is way better. Make the chairs movable! The more movement and informality you can introduce the greater the likelihood the party will have a life of its own rather than be a stifled, corporate affair.

Interestingly, the cheaper the venue the more likely this is to happen. Lavish party venues tend to breed an air of everyone having to be respectful of the layout. A cheaper party venue or casual home environment reinforces the idea that you can relax and enjoy yourself.

Try Not To Make It About Work

This is a tough one! Sure, it’s a work function, but people have plenty of time to talk about work during office hours! It’s a good idea to keep the party a work-announcement free zone.

Getting the most out of a corporate holiday celebration on a limited budget may require a little extra versatility to organize. However, it’s also a great opportunity to focus on what counts.

After all, loyalty and engagement aren’t bought with fancy catering! They’re a result of listening, inclusion and showing that we’re all in this together. And all that good stuff is 100% free.

Happy Celebrating!