Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The affordable, sustainable holiday office party

It's that time of year again.  Are you ready to celebrate your business's accomplishments and treat your employees to food, drink, and entertainment?  What if you're on a budget or if your business hasn't quite gotten out of the red and into the black yet?  Can you throw a great office party on a shoestring budget?

Americans have been living with affluenza symptoms for years, but it's important to realize that great parties don't depend on overindulgence or excess, they depend on people enjoying each others' company.  A well stocked table helps, but what people will really remember is time spent together.  Think of the best party you've ever been to.  Was it in some swanky venue with an open bar and a snooty maître d'?  Probably not.  One of the better holiday parties I've gone to had no catering, no entertainment, and was light on the amenities.  It was in November 1993, and a group of American teachers were celebrating Thanksgiving together in a small Soviet dorm.  We scoured the local market for supplies, peeled our own potatoes, roasted our own small chicken, and laughed hysterically about the challenges we all had in common, swapping ideas on how to solve them.  It was a great time.  There was one tiny incident - a Russian girlfriend broke a bottle and tried to slit her wrist in the bathroom - but that's always the case, isn't it?  A holiday isn't complete without some drama.

The point is, you don't have to spend a lot of money and order a dumpster after in order to throw a great Christmas party for your coworkers.  You just need some creativity and cooperation.  Here are a few tips for a memorable, zero waste celebration:

Decorate with ornaments that can be used from year to year and then stored away.  A nice holiday tablecloth really dresses up a room, and pine cones can be gathered and then returned to their outdoor setting when the party is over.  Invite your employees to bring in their favorite holiday decorations and take a few minutes to have each one showcase hers and tell why it is important to her.  These can either be left at the office for the remainder of December or returned home after the party.

Do not use disposable plates, cutlery or napkins.  It's true, hardly anyone loves to do dirty dishes, but it also hasn't killed anybody yet to do it.  Back in the old days, before throwaway plates, how do you think people managed? They worked together.  They volunteered together.  After every potluck, that same group of ladies gathered in the kitchen and cleaned out the pots and pans while the men broke down the tables and put away chairs. They got to know each other better, and they worked off some of the calories they'd just eaten.  If your employees object to having to clean up after an office party, offer them a flex hour in compensation, to be used in the new year. It's nicer to eat with real cutlery and plates anyway, like civilized people.

Have your most detail oriented person plan the food, and order based on what will actually get eaten instead of what will fill up a table.  Better food in smaller quantities are better than lots of plates of food no one likes or bag after bag of chips that will be sampled and then thrown out.  After the party, invite people to bring home any extra food.  Ask them ahead of time to bring their own tupperware to make this easier.  Look into donating anything unopened to a food bank.  Anything else freeze and eat later.

Gift exchanges are largely unnecessary and can cause problems if the "rules" are not communicated well or some people are left out.  Skip the complimentary gift unless it's something your employees will genuinely want. Another way to think of this is: most generic gifts will be thrown away or, at best, re-gifted.  No one wants a Christmas tree ornament with your business logo on it.  If it's mass produced, it will eventually find its way into the trash.  Spend the money instead on a better cut of meat or raffling off some gift cards.  Or, if your employees approve, give the money that would have been used to a charity that can be mutually agreed upon.

Remember again this holiday season that people have enough "stuff."  What they do not have, and can never have enough of is time spent well, happily, with people they like.  Keeping that in mind will help you plan your party so that it will be less expensive but more enjoyable.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our readers at Small Business Excellence!


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