Many U.S. companies toned down or even canceled their annual holiday parties after the rise of the MeToo movement. But the celebrations are back on the agenda — whether employees like it or not.
Seventy-six percent of companies, the largest share since 2016, plan to throw parties this year, according to a survey from recruiting and outplacement consultancy Challenger Gray & Christmas. That's up 11 percentage points from last year, when a number of respondents told Challenger they had cancelled holiday parties out of concerns related to #MeToo. Notably, more than half of the companies said they plan to serve booze at the festivities.
"The new normal is a party where alcohol can be served, people are responsible, and there is an awareness among men, women and company executives that potentially dangerous situations can occur and everyone is mindful," said Andrew Challenger, vice president at the firm.
Many companies saddled by harassment allegations have since taken steps to create more inclusive, harassment-free work environments, restoring confidence that employees can party while remaining professional.
The uptick in corporate get-togethers also reflects the tight labor market, Challenger said. "Companies are focused on retaining and attracting talent. At a time when the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low, it's not surprising to see the percentage of companies having holiday parties go up."
If businesses are putting on their party hats, however, many workers seem just fine with retiring the tradition once and for all. More than 62% of employees don't look forward to attending their company's holiday party, according to a recent poll conducted by career site Monster.
Experts offer guidelines for company leaders and workers on how to make merry without scandal.
- Have a code of conduct. Managers should use the holiday party as an opportunity to remind employees of the company's code of conduct and systems for reporting unprofessional behavior. Make sure channels to anonymously report unwelcome incidents are in place —and workers know about them.
- Remember that power requires responsibility. "This is where harassment and assault usually occur, so be aware of somebody who is more powerful who is acting unusually informally," said Laurie Girand, president of I'm With Them, a nonprofit seeking to reduce workplace sexual misconduct.
- Bring your spouse (if allowed). Companies can encourage employees to bring their spouses to temper potential misconduct.
- Hire a professional bartender as a way to limit alcohol intake. "Having someone who can stop serving somebody if it feels like they are going overboard — that's a great fail-safe," Challenger said.
- Make a playlist and check it twice. Eliminate sexualized music and avoid a nightclub atmosphere. "Someone should be reviewing the playlist because it has the opportunity to offend people or be the wrong kind of music. Someone should be paying attention to that, and lighting, because if you create lots of dark corners, that's not conducive to a professional party," Girand said.
- Downsize. Consider scaling back an event or hosting a smaller group. "If you want to reduce chances of misconduct, host a 20- to 30-person party for a group within your organization, because there is less anonymity and less likelihood of misconduct where there is no anonymity," Girand said.
- Arrive early and network. "Usually, C-suite executives show up early, too. Put in face-time, work the room and get the food while it's hot!" said Monster career expert Vicki Salemi. "Think of it as a way to shine while being appropriate and not drinking excessively."
- Pretend you're at the office. "'Office party' is a little bit of an oxymoron," said Steve Koepp, co-founder of work culture conference series From Day One. "Whether it's on-site or off-site, you are still in the office environment, so the partying has got to be pretty thoughtful and careful. I think it's a chance to meet people you might not otherwise meet, but it's not a place to ask for dates," he said.