10 Reasons Why Your Employees Loathe Holiday Parties

Fix These Reasons to Make Your Party Recognize Employee Contributions

Employees and their partners enjoying eating dinner at the annual company holiday party.
••• Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

It's the holiday season again, and it's time for the company party. Whether it's a Christmas, New Year, or Year-End Party, your company is having one, and it's fantastic. You invest a great deal of time, effort, and money in scheduling the party, but your employees seem somewhat unenthusiastic. Why is that, you may ask?

Here are ten reasons why your employees loathe the annual holiday party.

1. You Charge Employees to Attend

Here's a little hint: If something costs money, it's not a party. Sure, your employees may have fun, but a party is something the host gives to his or her guests. In college, everyone chipped in for food and drink, but this isn't college.

When you make employees buy a ticket for themselves and their plus one (if allowed to attend), it doesn't feel like a gift from the employer. This makes sense, of course, because it's not. Even if the business is covering the vast majority of the cost, employees don't want to have to pay any money to go to a party.

2. It's an Evening Event and Plus Ones Aren't Invited

It's your company, so you want just the employees there. That makes perfect sense, except that your employees see you and each other employee all day every day. They want to spend the weekend and their evenings with their significant others.

Having to leave that significant person at home so they can go to a work obligation doesn't feel like a party. If you want an employee-only event, hold it during work hours. If you want an evening event, pay for your employees' significant others to attend

3. Babysitters Required

While adult-only evenings are great, if a lot of your staff has young children, it becomes a major expense and a pain in the neck to come to your party. Not everyone has a grandma living next door. Most people have to hire and pay for a babysitter.

Yes, it was their choice to have children. That doesn't mean that finding a babysitter during the busy holiday season is easy, especially when your employees are also scheduled for multiple holiday events. This is one of the reasons employers are scheduling employee events outside of the holiday season such as a company birthday party in blah February.

4. Babies Everywhere

On the flip side, if you invite children, the holiday party can turn into a kids' party, which is fine if your staff is comprised of only families. But this is likely to leave your childless employees feeling like they aren't even guests at the party. If you're thinking that you can't win on this, you're right.

If your party requires babysitters, the people with small children may feel put out, and if you have a family party, your childless employees will feel overlooked and undervalued. The key here is knowing your employees and asking what will work best for them. Remember the party isn't about you, it's about rewarding your employees for their contributions.

5. Lousy Food

A party is only as good as the food and drink, and if you rent the fancy hotel ballroom and then cheap out on the food, people will be annoyed. Additionally, you can no longer just assume everyone can eat everything. You need to take the major allergies into consideration and have vegetarian and (sometimes) vegan options available.

Yes, it's impossible to meet every little dietary consideration, but you need to try. If your business is small, you should be able to meet everyone's needs. In a larger group, consider having people pre-order, or make the menu available in advance so that people don't show up to a party where they can't eat anything. Or, make dinner a buffet with a variety of choices to meet the needs of every employee.

6. Attendance Is Really Involuntary

Many companies have parties where you don't have to come, but, if you don't come, the managers will note your failure to attend and hold it against you. “Jane isn't a team player—she didn't even come to the holiday party.” If you are going to hold non-attendance against people, then make that clear. Don't say attendance is voluntary and not mean it. Employees will certainly figure this out.

Additionally, keep in mind that there are plenty of people who have religious or personal reasons for why they may not want to attend a party. If it's labeled a Christmas Party, you may have employees of other religions who feel left out. If you have free-flowing alcohol, you may have a recovering alcoholic on staff who would rather not attend. Make attendance at holiday parties truly voluntary.

7. Everyone Gets Drunk

Excess imbibing in alcohol doesn't have to be everyone to make the holiday party uncomfortable. When everyone knows that the marketing manager is going to get sloshed and make a fool of themself, no one wants to see it happen. When the director of sales has too much to drink and forgets their sexual harassment training, their behavior can open up the company to potential legal liability. Additionally, if you serve alcohol, you need to provide a way that ensures that people will get home safely including a bus or cab car driver.

8. Long Executive Speeches

You're the boss and that's great. But, no one wants to hear much from you at the holiday party. If you have a tendency to give a long speech about anything, people will avoid your party like the plague. Here's what you can say, “We're so glad to have all of you here tonight. We had a great year and I'd like to thank you for all your hard work. Have a great evening.”

That's pretty much the limit. The employees don't want to hear a year-end report or a critique of the latest advertising campaign. They don't want to hear your innermost thoughts on the plan for the future. Save those for a meeting. Senior leaders should keep their mouths shut at the holiday party.

9. A and B Parties

It's okay for a manager to have a party and just invite their direct reports. It's not okay, for the CEO to throw a party and invite only certain people (unless it's just their direct reports). While people aren't paid the same amount of money, it's not a good message to send your lower-level employees that they aren't good enough for the cool party.

If your company is too large to invite everyone, then don't have a company party—have division heads or whatever level is practical—hold a party with everyone reporting up to them invited. Divide the parties by location, or function. All is fine, as long as the parties are equal. HQ employees shouldn't get caviar and champagne while the warehouse employees get pizza and soda. (Although, frankly, many people would prefer the latter.)

10. Forced Gift Giving

Remember an old adage about gifts in the office. They go down, not up. That means the CEO never, ever, gets a gift from their employees. At the most, they can give them a card, a group box of chocolates, or homemade cookies, but never anything beyond that.

Don't hold a party where employees are expected to shower the senior team with gifts and praise. It should always go the other way. Polly-Anna's, White Elephant Exchanges and Secret Santas are fun as long as participation is truly voluntary (see above) and there is a price limit that is strictly enforced.

Never, ever, question why a coworker is not participating. “It's only $20,” you might say. But you don't know if your coworker is managing a mortgage on their own because their spouse just got laid off and her mother-in-law has just moved in. Remember, fun activities are only fun if they are voluntary.

The Bottom Line

If your employees aren't jumping for joy at the announcement of this year's holiday party, look at this ten-item list and figure out what you're doing wrong. Make sure that you fix your errors to ensure that your employees ​enjoy the work-related holiday season and your best efforts to show them that you care about and appreciate them.


Suzanne Lucas is a freelance journalist specializing in Human Resources. Suzanne's work has been featured on notable publications including Forbes, CBS, Business Insider, and Yahoo.