life of the holiday party

Life of the Party

December 4, 2018


With the holiday season upon us, how do you socialize in the office?

We are heading into one of the most active social seasons of the year, with events ranging from quiet get togethers to frantic house parties to gargantuan gala events. Company-run social events have been a longstanding tradition in many organizations, often reflecting aspects of the people within that plan them. Before you do a deep-dive into planning your event, take a peek at what some other organizations do to break bread together.

Though they may just be seen as fun get-togethers, Lisa Kay, president and lead consultant of Toronto-based Peak Performance Human Resources, says that there are notable benefits to hosting social events.

“Across generations, people enjoy socializing with their colleagues, having an opportunity to do something more on a casual level to get to know people in a more personal way,” she says. “The advantage is in terms of engagement and giving people an opportunity to get to know their colleagues more.”

HR specialist Brad Fernandes, who works at Toronto-based digital marketing agency DAC Group, similarly notes that office parties often remind him how much he appreciates the environment and group that he works with.

“I’d say there’s a lot of great thinking, lots of really cool people here. We’re allowed to be ourselves … [and] our mantra here is personality and I think that really does speak quite well to the culture here,” he says.

In addition to company-sponsored parties for 300-400 people, there have been chili cooking contests, dance-offs, obstacle course competitions, and even arcade-themed events featuring retro arcade cabinets.

GO BIG OR GO HOME

DAC Group is filled with a variety of bombastic events, many of which are outside the realm of the typical office party. Fernandes describes his international organization as technologically innovative and creative, with their social events following suit. In addition to company-sponsored parties for 300-400 people, there have been chili cooking contests, dance-offs, obstacle course competitions, and even arcade-themed events featuring retro arcade cabinets.

Care is taken to ensure the set-up of their parties also takes an inventive approach. Fernandes says they place stand-up food tables strategically so people have to walk around and talk to each other.

“I’ve been to some other holiday parties with really broad and expansive spaces and you could see other people but there wasn’t really much of a driver for you to go over and talk to them,” he says. “What I like about ours is that it really does [encourage that]. Sometimes you’ve got to force people to talk.”

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And with such a large company, the ability to mingle and establish relationships at social gatherings is crucial. “You could be working with someone right beside you for a year and not know their name. This is a great way for us to mingle, let our hair down and enjoy each other’s company.”

Fernandes adds social events are even more prevalent between coworkers, with staff inviting each other to house parties and going out barhopping after work.

“It’s not like you hear that cool group of people talking and then feel like, ‘Oh, I wish I could be invited to it,’” he notes. “It’s just the general feeling that people are invited to anything.”

Fernandes says his company also makes sure to tailor events to the diverse demographics in the office, with staff that have been with the group for 20-30 years and others that have worked there for less than a year. “For example, even the music last year for the holiday party was mixed. It was a mash-up of fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties music, again catering for all the generations.”

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Traditional parties can be nice, but not all company get-togethers are representative of a company’s culture, notes Kay. “I think generally the extent to which a company goes to take out their employees for the holidays is more often just based on what they can afford to do and what’s realistic,” she says.

Kay adds it’s the same as any decision around compensation or benefits, with the organization having to take a position that is viable for them. “I would say the more you can do for the employees, obviously the better, but you have to factor in your own situation.”

Kay works in a consulting firm with 19 other remote employees. Instead of having a big party, the company will usually have a holiday lunch and share a few bottles of wine. She adds that this kind of celebration isn’t uncommon with the current business landscape.

“I work with hundreds of clients … not very many of them are having full-blown holiday parties … it might be different for large organizations [that] are financially in a position where they can offer that but a lot of companies are small and midsize these days, so it’s hard for them to compete,” Kay says.

And even without a pricey social event, she says the intention behind the get-together is what’s more important. “I think so long as the [employer is] offering some way of recognizing employees and rewarding them, and taking them out to celebrate the year behind and the year ahead, as long as there’s some gesture, that’s enough.”

UNITED FRONT

For Isha Sachdeva, HR and office manager at Toronto-based management consultant company The Burnie Group, social events have a different purpose. For her it’s more about giving back to the community and making sure staff remain connected.

“We have lots of social events, and we’ve kind of amped that up in the past few years. Because we’re a smaller firm, we like to make sure that we are working together, and the bigger you get the more silos you tend to create,” Sachdeva says.

Some of the social events run by The Burnie Group include summer boat cruises, dinner and drinks, and Chinese New Year’s celebrations.

“We actually do a skills auction as well,” Sachdeva adds. “While we’re celebrating the year and having a holiday party to show our appreciation, we actually get them involved in charity work as well where they can essentially auction off the skills that they have.”

For instance, if an employee can bake cakes, they can pick somebody they want to pass that skill on to, and when they do so the company will donate to charity.

This focus on keeping employees on the same page matches a larger organizational cohesion. Sachdeva notes that despite the small size of the firm, there is a diverse set of technical and functional skills that can be hard to explain to colleagues with other specialities. The nature of their work also means that consultants will be away for weeks at a time working on projects with their own clients.

Their plethora of social events is bolstered by professional meetings and “Edge Talks,” which bring in industry professionals to talk about topics like Artificial Intelligence, similar to a TED Talk.

“Sometimes it’s a little bit difficult to engage in the same type of conversation because they’re in different practice areas,” she says. “For example, there’s a big difference when talking about something very technical like robotics process automation compared to something very functional like operational excellence.”

As such, their plethora of social events is bolstered by professional meetings and “Edge Talks,” which bring in industry professionals to talk about topics like artificial intelligence, similar to a TED Talk.

And though their workspace is confined, she stresses this just makes it even more crucial to avoid social or professional estrangement between departments. “When they’re not in projects they’re in an open space, and so we don’t want to have visible divisions within the organizations,” Sachdeva says.

She also notes that while they are a professional organization in a professional space, the company is still one where people can be themselves.

“You’ll notice there isn’t really much of a difference between the people in the office versus the people at social events. Everybody has two different faces, usually a professional face at work and a social face … Here you can see that the people are the same all around because they’re comfortable being themselves where we work.”

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WRITTEN BY
Alice Chen
Alice Chen is a young reporter with experience in news and magazine writing, photography, and digital content.

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