The current economic crisis may do for us what our collective ambivalence hasn’t – encourage a reconsideration of the annual forced festivity in the workplace. With the economy going downhill, holding a lavish party is too reminiscent of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. As a result, between one fifth and one quarter of American companies aren’t holding parties at all this year.

Tips for Holding a Successful Office Party

Many of those that are maintaining the office party tradition are modifying the celebration by limiting the menu and alcohol, holding the party during the work day, and holding it on site rather than at a restaurant. Moderation has entered the conversation. Yes, let’s have some kind of get-together. No, let’s not spend time with coworkers at an elaborate after hours party that is fraught with the potential for some terrible career gaff.

If you’ve been assigned the job of figuring out how to have a company holiday gathering on a modest or no budget, consider some of these ideas.

  1. Be sensitive to issues of diversity. Much of America doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Holiday decorations can celebrate the various festivals of winter to reflect many cultures and religions. Consider having an office potluck lunch where people bring and share samples of foods from their own family and cultural traditions.
  2. Get a committee together to rethink “office traditions” that require people to spend money for gifts they probably don’t need or want. Activities like “Secret Santas” and “Yankee Swaps” may have been maintained only because no one dared to say no. If the idea is to have some group activity, consider games or joke gifts instead of more expensive alternatives.
  3. Poll your office. You may find that people would feel good about contributing to a local charity instead of holding even a modest party. Some offices are collecting canned goods for the local survival center or donating presents for needy children instead of exchanging gifts.
  4. If people do want a get-together, consider a continental breakfast, potluck lunch or low key eggnog and cookie break instead of a dinner.
  5. Find a way for everyone to celebrate work well done and to appreciate those who have made the workplace a positive place to be. This could be as simple as a group brainstorming of successes or the issuing of certificates of appreciation.
  6. Spare the significant others and hold the event during the workday (or right after work) and limit it to co-workers only.
  7. f company policy allows it, see if it is possible to offer the staff a few extra hours or an additional day off during the week before New Year’s Eve in lieu of a party. Even a little time off can reduce some of the holiday stress and do wonders for morale. As one of my friends put it, “An office party is something put up with by the many for a few to enjoy. But a day off is something everyone can love.”

Although spurred by economic necessity, reconsideration of the office party is a healthy exercise that is probably way overdue. If you are fortunate to work in a cozy office or on a close-knit team where people genuinely like to spend time together, the annual party can be an affirming holiday ritual. But if the holiday party at your workplace is another holiday stress, there is room this year to suggest alternatives without being seen as a modern-day Scrooge. There are a whole lot of people who will only be relieved.

*Just in case you’re wondering: The reason the British Greyhound Racing Board commissioned the poll is that they hope employers will swap a night at the dog races for the usual party.