Office holiday parties boost morale and teamwork. With winter holidays around the corner, it’s a good time to get your small business employees in the spirit of the season. Consider these unique, creative and affordable holiday celebration ideas and themes for your holiday office party, Christmas celebration or New Year’s event.
Here are the top 26 office holiday party ideas from party planning pros.
1. Provide a Hot Chocolate Bar & Decorate Cookies
Jenn Nicken, CEO, The Chef & The Dish
Build up an extravagant hot chocolate bar, right down to the cocoa. Load up on cocoa, chocolate shavings and sugar, and then ask each guest to bring something decadent to add. Each person at the party is also responsible for bringing cookies. Perhaps some will bake their own snickerdoodles, and others may buy Italian wedding cookies from the store. Then, let the decorating and festivities begin.
2. Celebrate Unity & Shared Values
Dr. Marlene Caroselli, Author & Adjunct Professor, UCLA & National University
Dr. Maulana Karenga initiated the observance of ancient African virtues the same year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Fifty years later, 28 million people worldwide spend seven days in December affirming unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Gather colleagues and ask each to tell one way the company affirms one of these values. Then, present the boss with a collective gift to show the staff’s appreciation.
3. Create a Virtual Gift Exchange
Marc Prosser, Chief Revenue Officer, Fit Small Business
If many of your team members are virtual — like ours are — consider creating a remote team member holiday Christmas party gift exchange using the Secret Santa app that works within Slack. You can then have team members order gifts using their Amazon Prime accounts (free shipping) sent to each person’s home office. Gift opening and sharing the surprise when they find out the identity their secret Santa is then hosted live using a video conferencing tool like Zoom.
4. Volunteer Together & Spread the Gift of Goodwill
Stephanie L. Jones, Author, “The Giving Challenge“
A fun way to celebrate the holidays with your office is by giving back. Find a local nonprofit organization and volunteer as a group. Maybe cook a meal for a homeless shelter and eat together as a team, or host a party at the local boys and girls club. You can get inexpensive party favors and sweet treats at the Dollar Tree or for all to enjoy.
5. Ask Your Team What Holiday Party Themes They’d Consider Fun
Dave Waring, CEO, Fit Small Business
We find that getting employees involved in the party planning and hosting is a fun way to maximize ideas and find out what holiday party themes they’d be interested in. Many come from unique backgrounds and have great experiences from working in prior firms. We’ve used their suggestions to host off-site events as well as virtual celebrations.
If you use payroll software like Gusto that has communication tools and forms built in, you can send a message to employees asking for their feedback and ideas directly. You’ll be surprised at some of the great party ideas your own employees suggest from creating gift packages for deployed soldiers to doing an in-office scavenger hunt. As a bonus, some team members may offer to help you coordinate the details.
6. Take the Team Out for a Competitive Sport While Wearing Holiday Costumes
Casmin Wisner, PR Representative, Jive Communications
My team loves going to TopGolf for holiday parties and the occasional celebratory event. While this doesn’t sound super unique in and of itself, splitting your team into groups and competing in costume as heroes vs. villains or Who’s vs. Grinches would be hysterical. That is definitely an event my team, which loves dressing up, enjoys.
7. Hire a Magician to Entertain Employees While They Nosh
Remy Connor, Professional Magician, RemyConnor.com
I am commonly asked to come out to company holiday events, on company property or at event spaces to interact and mingle with co-workers and perform. The guests are always pleasantly surprised to have entertainment. It boosts morale because employees feel like the company is adding more than just standard drinks and food. You don’t have to be a mentalist to see everyone laughing and gasping in astonishment.
8. Take the Team Ice Skating
Jason Perkins, Founder & CEO, San Diego SEO Firm
Every year, I usually take my team out for dinner or lunch. It is a simple gesture, but it is also a great way to save on cost. After lunch, we engage in a team activity like ice skating to help build relationships and comfort with one another, which I feel is a good start for better productivity in the office.
9. Get Out of the Office & Enjoy Some Sunshine
Shelley Grieshop, Creative Writer, Totally Promotional
If your business is located somewhere warm, host the holiday party at an offsite outdoor location, like a park or pavilion, to ensure employees don’t feel like they’re at work and can get some rays. At the entrance, provide a display of one-size-fits-all sunglasses — the latest party trend for breaking the ice and setting a fun tone. If you opt to customize the party sunglasses with your company name or website address, you’ll be giving away a gift that will double as a marketing tool for you!
10. Rent a Photo Booth Complete with Holiday Props
Photographer Adam Mason @MasonPhotoDC from DC Photobooth tweeted about his best party ever, highlighting photos of the fun had with a photo booth at the party. He stated that “The best part was most of these folks are acquaintances or friends so that everyone in the room felt right at home. The props helped folks feel at ease and smile big for the camera at this DC Photobooth. There was a steady flow of more than 300 people the entire night at the Christmas Party.”
Photo booths aren’t outrageously expensive, either — they run approximately $100 to $150 per hour, and you may only need one for an hour or two.
11. View a Ridiculous Movie Like ‘Office Christmas Party’
Depending on the size of your team, you can bring everyone together in a large conference room with your standard holiday food and drinks and have your own private screening of a movie that you stream from Amazon Prime or Netflix. If you have a large team, consider contacting your local movie theater and rent out one of the movie rooms for three hours, providing your employees with popcorn and snacks as you view that holiday flick. Other good holiday movie choices include “Scrooged,” “Elf,” “Home Alone” and “A Christmas Story.”
12. Light Up a Year-end Bonfire in the Parking Lot
Clear the parking lot and drag a large metal trash can into the center. Get a local burn permit first if you need one, so the authorities don’t show up and spoil your fun. Then have each team member share a favorite memory from the year as well as secretly jot down something they regret. Collect the favorites. Burn the regrets. Then, celebrate with s’mores. Who cares if it’s winter?
13. Host a Multicultural Food Festival & Gift Exchange
You can do this any time of the year, but consider hosting your party in December when many cultures celebrate holidays like Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, Kwanzaa and even specific dates like Milad un Nabi and the winter solstice.
Each person brings a food dish and a smallish token gift — say less than $5 — that represents their cultural heritage, like a Swedish Dala horse. For example, someone from Germany could bring Lebkuchen molasses cookies, and someone from Hawaii could bring sweet bread holiday stuffing. Then, as the party gifts are traded, food is tasted and stories are shared, you create holiday cheer and increase overall cultural awareness and teamwork.
14. Give Employees a Surprise Afternoon Off to Shop
This is one of my favorites because the thing many employees crave most at year end is time off to get holiday errands done. So, give them some shopping time with paid time off. You might want to track that time off using free timekeeping software Homebase.
Start with an in-office holiday brunch with bagels, orange juice and coffee. Then, hand everyone a gift certificate to the mall or to a big-box store like Target on the condition that they head straight over and spend the next two hours buying something nice for someone in their family or themselves. After that, give them the afternoon off — paid. They’ll enjoy shopping and comparing purchases with colleagues and will appreciate your thoughtfulness. They’ll still have time to pick up their ugly Christmas sweater from the dry cleaners before it closes.
15. Have a Food Station in Each Department
Replace the annual potluck — the most common holiday celebration idea we heard — with something a bit more engaging that requires your team members to work in teams.
For example, let accounting bring appetizers, marketing bring soup, information technology bring a salad, human resources (HR) bring snacks and sales bring dessert. Then head over to the executive suite for a cocktail.
Even better, ask each department team to decorate their serving table with a theme, like Nutcracker or Santa’s Workshop. Then, travel the office, sample the fare and vote on the best of each category like food and theme. Bon appetit! Celebrate with champagne toasts and streamers. Limit the alcohol and end the party by 5 p.m. local time so that no one risks a DWI.
16. Take Kids from Head Start to a Build-A-Bear Workshop
The holidays are all about family. So, why not contact your local Head Start office and invite parents to bring the little ones and join your team at a Build-A-Bear Workshop on a specific date and time? You or your team can pay for the bear-building materials and watch the joy on little faces as they customize their own bear.
Call first to make sure you can bring your ‘party’ to the store, by making a reservation and confirming that food and beverages can be brought in. Of course, it doesn’t have to be Build a Bear — that’s just an example. The idea is to take the kids — and their parents — to do something that, as low-income families, they couldn’t afford to do on their own.
17. Plan a Photo Scavenger Hunt with a Holiday Twist
Pick 10 or so locations inside a small geographic area — maybe two or three blocks — near your office and provide individuals, pairs or teams of co-workers with a list of clues for holiday items that you’ve hidden or identified in advance like the tree in Central Park or the bear in the shop window.
They’ll have a great time searching for each item and taking a photo of it. The first team to return to the office with photo evidence that they’ve found all 10 items wins. Provide a small gift bag of holiday items for employees to take home so that everyone wins. Company culture also wins.
18. Create Outrageous Ice Cream Sundaes
Ice cream isn’t limited to summer or warm climates. In fact, according to The Kitchn, the people of Norway eat the most ice cream per capita. So, go big, and host an ice cream social with multiple flavors and every topping you can think of. You could also make it even more creative by asking team members to bring their favorite toppings, cones and more. Decorate sundaes first, then judge and eat the best ice cream sundaes. Of course, you’ll have leftovers. Send them home with your employees, so their kids and family members can share in this fun winter treat.
19. Have a Gingerbread House-making Contest
Unless you’re Martha Stewart, buy some premade gingerbread house kits on Amazon or your local hobby store and provide one kit to every two people in your office. Set the timer, and see who can build the nicest-looking or most creative gingerbread house within 30 minutes. Add to the fun by purchasing lots of extra icing in tubes, hard candy and sprinkles for them to adorn their gingerbread houses.
You’d be surprised as some employees may add desktop tchotchkes to their gingerbread scene. You might find one with a mini Harley parked outside its candy cane entrance, a little wooden reindeer made of sticks or a bobblehead Santa on the roof.
If you use Slack for employee collaboration, post your photos there and let team members vote.
20. Create a Holiday Cocktail Competition
Ask employees to come up with a unique holiday-themed hot or cold drink beverage recipe and purchase all the trimmings — think “Chimney Ash Hot Martini” — vodka, cranberry juice, red hots and chocolate shavings.
Your job as the host is to provide multiple drinking glasses in all styles, blenders, ice stirrers and cocktail napkins. Then, when the beverages are assembled, take photos and drink up. As a bonus, write down your recipes and share them with family, friends and clients to show them your office and team members know how to have fun.
If you need a place to store your company policies, like expense reporting and alcohol on the job? Consider using Gusto HR/payroll software as it allows you to keep all your documentation online, and you can even request employees to e-sign that they’ve read and understood the policies.
21. Take Your Team on a Limousine Tour of Holiday Lights
If your team can fit in a 10-passenger limousine, consider taking the whole group on a tour of your city’s holiday lights. It’s surprisingly affordable. Rates — even in New York City — run around $200 for a three-hour limo plus tip. You can have the limo pick team members up at the office and plan a fixed route through beautifully decorated areas of town, perhaps with a stop at a Christmas or toy store for some shopping or ask the driver to do a drive-thru to a fast food place like Jack-in-the-Box just for fun. Provide champagne and snacks in the limo and let the festivities begin on four wheels.
22. Decorate Business-related Ornaments for Your Office Christmas Tree
Spend a holiday party hour or so at work taking a break from the daily grind and doing a holiday craft together. If you run an auto shop, buy small-scale model cars, hot glue, thin wire and have your mechanics decorate tiny vehicles to hang on the tree.
You may want to set the tree up, provide holiday snacks and purchase all the supplies in advance. Then, host your office party around the tree as each employee works to add their own festive touch. Use beads, crystals, Styrofoam or glass balls or anything related to your business and brand. If you’re a plumbing shop, decorate copper 90-degree elbow connectors with glitter. I once worked with an ammunition manufacturer, whose holiday decor was made from shell casings.
Party decorating supplies can be found in bulk on Amazon Prime and shipped direct to your office, making the setup easy.
23. Visit an Art Gallery Like They Did in ‘Love Actually’
Ever seen the movie “Love Actually”? Remember that holiday party theme in a gaudy art gallery full of nudes? While we don’t recommend risque art for your holiday party, many venues like private art galleries, small local museums and even some smaller retail shops will let you rent their space for a holiday party. Unusual spaces with lots of visual stimulation provide great conversation starters so that everyone’s not sitting there looking at their empty paper plate while waiting for the white elephant gift exchange. Start calling around now. Cool venues go fast.
24. Celebrate Zulu New Year’s Eve
A family restaurant chain in San Diego, Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, does this every year in its Mira Mesa location to keep employees and guests off the road at night and to avoid conflict with other New Year’s plans that participants might have.
Zulu refers to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). That’s seven to 10 hours ahead of most of the United States. So, instead of starting your party at midnight, start it in the early afternoon, and watch the year turn to 2018 in GMT, perhaps by streaming live TV on your iPad to BBC One in the United Kingdom, and projecting it on the big screen.
25. Arrange a Team Art Class
Here’s the one I wish I could attend. Hire an art teacher, one who does acrylic painting or has access to the pottery studio or just go to one of those “paint your own ceramic” places or ask your florist to lead a workshop on wreath making in your break room. Then, invite the whole team to learn a new skill while enjoying each other’s company.
If it is a pottery place, employees can hand-make ornaments and menorahs. If it is a painting studio, then have the teacher plan a group painting in advance, such as a winter snowfall scene in the mountains. A florist can bring materials so each employee could make a garland. You get the idea. And once you have this event scheduled, invite me, OK? I love art.
26. Ditch the Holiday Party Altogether
The Society for Human Resource Management, SHRM, suggests perhaps its best to ditch the holiday party altogether in favor of service projects or mystery trips. They note that more than two-thirds of employees would prefer a cash bonus and half would rather have additional time off during the holidays. They recognize that some employers are concerned about the risk of having employees drinking or being offended at a holiday event.
The Bottom Line
The best holiday party ideas are those that fit your business culture, drive employee morale up and put everyone in great spirits. If you all get to try something new or taste a new recipe, all the better. You probably already know how to plan a party, right? If not, check out our event planning checklist.
So, whether you give employees cash, gifts, an Amazon gift card, an extra day off or simply create an environment where team members can have fun with one another and build friendships, hosting a holiday event is a super way to cement a great working relationship with your team of employees and ensure that ‘goodwill towards all’ extends into 2019.
If you’re going to be paying employees for their attendance at a party or to take a day to support a local charity, we recommend tracking that paid time in Gusto. Gusto is our top recommended payroll software for small business due to ease of setup and use, online document storage, labor law compliance and much more.