According to a 2018 annual survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., 65% of employers planned to host an office holiday party for employees. This is the lowest number since 2009 when 62% of companies planned to hold office holiday parties. Based on this annual survey on holiday party plans, "conducted in October  among 150 human resources representatives across the country, nearly 27 percent of companies reported they never hold company parties, the highest since Challenger began the survey in 2004."
In 2009, when 38% of companies reported that they would not hold office holiday parties,15% of companies said they never hold office holiday parties, and 23% said that they were not holding an office party that year.
Still, some employers want to celebrate the holidays in a way that does not include a traditional office holiday party. The emphasis in these alternatives is on low-cost activities that are still fun and help to build employee morale and positive spirits. A minimal investment of energy and time in planning and execution also is appreciated by stressed-out employees.
Consider the following ideas about how to embrace the holiday spirit without committing a lot of employee time, hard-earned company cash, or employee planning energy. Your employees and their families will appreciate your low-key alternatives to an office party. Office parties can be expensive, energy-consuming, scary (in the age of #MeToo) and potentially make employers liable for employee drinking or injury.
Make cookies for a holiday cookie tasting
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
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
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
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
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 types of charitable pursuits you choose, you can pursue them as an alternative to the office party. Or, you can use charitable giving to supplement any of these other ideas.
Schedule an employee potluck lunch
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
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
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
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
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 (consider Mexican food), 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.
This is an event that works well for days such as December 24 when offices and schools tend to close early so employees can attend a noonish office lunch party before hitting the road for their holiday adventures.