10 Alternatives to the Office Holiday Party

Keep the Ho-Ho-Ho low cost, low key, and fun for time-challenged employees

According to surveys by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. from 2014 through 2017, more than 70 percent of employers typically host holiday parties for employees. In 2014 and 2015, more than 11 percent of employers stating that they were hosting such parties after having not hosted one for one or more years.

Additionally, 2014 and 2015 also saw significant spikes in the number of employers who were spending more on such parties, and budgets mostly have held steady since then.

Still, some employers want to celebrate in a way that does not include a traditional office holiday party. The emphasis in these alternatives is on low-cost activities that still are fun and help build morale. A minimal investment of energy and time in planning and execution also is appreciated by stressed-out employees.

Consider these ideas about how to embrace the holiday spirit without committing a lot of employee time, hard earned cash, or energy. Your employees and their families will appreciate your low-key alternatives to an expensive, energy-consuming, scary office party.

Make cookies for a holiday cookie tasting

A holiday cookie exchange is an excellent alternatve to a holiday party.
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With company-supplied punch, soft drinks, and mulled cider, ask employees to bring in cookies to share with their coworkers. Keep the event low pressure by specifying that bakery products are welcome, too. Make sure the company orders a supply of bakery cookies to ensure that every employee has a chance to sample a variety.

Make the event festive with holiday music and gift certificate prizes for the bakers of the employees’ favorite cookies. If your employees are interested, you also can sponsor a cookie exchange.

Schedule an ugly holiday sweater day

Ugly sweater day is an alternative to the traditional office holiday party.
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Selected and loved with poor taste and abandon, this contest to wear the ugliest holiday sweater of all sparks fun and laughter all day long. Accompany the festivity with photos and company-supplied refreshments for all.

Hold an in-house catered lunch with fun and games

Christmas catered lunch for employees - an alternative to the office holiday party.
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Company-supplied beverages and a catered lunch can be part of an afternoon that puts the emphasis on employees playing games together.

Card games, shuffleboard, basketball, board games, Pictionary, table tennis, pool, and more, can spark hours of fun and friendly competition and de-emphasize drinking.

Participate in a holiday card exchange

Christmas tree message and card exchange, alternatives to a holiday party.
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Employees sign up to exchange cards with coworkers. As your company becomes larger, the cost and time involved in sending cards to all coworkers can become prohibitive for many employees. Why not pull names from a hat so coworkers can still exchange 1-5 cards rather than send to the whole office. Or, limit cards to departments.

If you are using a drawing, enter the employee names the same number of times as the number of cards each employee agrees to send. Keep your recipients secret. Do the drawing at a company lunch, ugly sweater day, or cookie exchange.

Make a charitable contribution in lieu of an office party

Volunteering near construction site is a good holiday party alternative.
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Employees may find charitable giving motivational and exciting. Visual giving is most on display during the holidays. Employees enjoy seeing piles of food, gifts, clothing, and household items growing in the company lobby or break room.

Employees might develop camaraderie by banding together to paint walls for older community members to brighten their holiday season. Whatever charitable pursuits you choose, you can pursue them as an alternative to the office party. Or, charitable giving can supplement any of the other ideas.

Schedule an employee potluck lunch

An office potluck luncheon is an employee friendly alternative to a fancy holiday party.
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Employees may enjoy celebrating the holiday season with a potluck lunch at work. If you don't do these too often and you alternate them with company-supplied, catered feasts, employees enjoy showing off their culinary skills. Post a sign-up list online or in the lunch room so employees bring a variety of foods to share.

A potluck lunch can be a festive occasion, especially when you combine the potluck with any of these other alternatives to the office party, including secret Santa and ugly holiday sweater day.

Hold a contest for decorating cubicles or other work areas

Decorated offices and cubicles are a fine holiday party alternative - or addition.
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Your workplace can be the image of holiday cheer throughout the season as employees vie in teams to decorate a work area, an office, a conference room, or a public area.

Winners can be voted on by other employees and the award ceremony can take place in conjunction with any other holiday activities.

Pick a secret Santa pal

Office man and woman holding a doll together at Christmas at the office gift exchange.
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Draw one employee name from the names submitted by employees who want to participate. Hold the cost-limited gift exchange at a potluck lunch.

Another internet twist on secret Santa requires participating employees to purchase their gifts on eBay with a price limit of $25, including shipping.

Plan an office party for a different season

Two Halloween witches looking at an ipad at the Halloween office party.
Betsie Van Der Meer / Getty Images

Because of competition for employee time, attention, energy, and investment during the December holiday season, some companies schedule a party during another time of year.

Schedule your company's founding party in April, a mid-summer eve in July, or an early fall harvest in September. Every business has events and associations in its history that employees may want to celebrate with an office party.

Outside of the December holiday season, venues are available and less expensive. Food, dress, decorations, and drinks can be less ambitious and more casual and fun. Run wild with your imagination. Even a picnic on the company grounds may beat the holiday blowout when employees are over-celebrated and over-stressed.

Hold the office party—but keep it low-key and casual

Low key office parties are another alternative to the fancy office holiday party.
- Fotosearch / Getty Images

You can hold a fun, less expensive alternative to traditional fancy blowouts. You even can schedule and hold the office party at a time or location to involve families if you wish.

A combination of casual clothes, children invited, and fun, comfortable relaxed surroundings make these parties fun for all.

Held onsite, or in a local establishment, the key to low key includes a buffet, casual dress, and lots of team building activities to play and share with coworkers, and their families, if you choose. An enterprising employee may even want to play Santa for the kids.

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