Dobbeck: Holiday ideas that can replace workplace party

Over the years, many employers have decided to forego their annual holiday party.

Don’t let that get your employees down. Instead, get creative. Plan several events to lift the spirits of all. Last year’s list is below, with a few more added in:

1. Have employees bring in pictures of their first Christmas or other holiday event. Guess who is who.

2. Ask all employees to bring in their favorite holiday appetizer or dessert, along with the recipe to share.

3. Plan an ornament exchange. The first employee gets to pick a wrapped ornament from the table, the next can take one from the table or take the one that is already taken and that employee takes a new one from the table. And so on.

4. Go online and find free puzzles, word games, coloring pages, etc. Leave these in the lunchroom so employees can have some fun.

5. Collect items from employees for a local charity or food pantry. Invite the group in and ask them to personally thank employees over coffee and cookies.

6. Conduct a best-decoration contest. Ask employees to decorate their workstations and award the most creative.

7. Pipe festive music into the facility or lunchroom.

8. Allow each employee to take a morning or afternoon off with pay. Since payroll is a fixed cost, if no replacement is needed for the employee, the time away won’t cost any more than you already had in the budget.

9. Plan a cookie exchange. Each employee brings in several dozen of their favorite holiday treats. All employees take a few of each and end up with a fanciful dessert tray.

10. Arrange a Christmas caroling evening. Invite employees to bring cheer to a local senior center. Before the event, arrange a couple of practices.

11. Ask employees to write a short paragraph of what the holidays mean to them or their most memorable holiday. Share in a newsletter.

12. Name that Santa. Arrange for a manager to dress up as Santa and visit with employees. Employees have to guess who is playing Santa.

13. Arrange a wrapping party. Invite employees to bring their gifts to work. Serve hot chocolate while employees wrap gifts without worrying about little eyes watching them.

14. Plan an ugly sweater or sock contest. Just don’t schedule it when customers are coming.

15. Plan a movable feast. Go from department to department, and employees supply all but the main course – that is on you.

16. Invite family members to the workplace to make crafts. Have plenty of supplies on hand, such as beads, pipe cleaners, popcorn, thread and needles, ribbon, felt, glitter and glue. Employees should bring additional items they think they might use from home. Serve hot chocolate and cookies.

17. Plan a secret Santa. Employees select the name of another employee. Place a minimum and maximum dollar amount for gifts. Then, ask management to serve a low-cost lunch while employees unwrap their secret Santa present. 

18. Send cards to your employees’ homes. Make sure to include a special note – individualized to them – about their contributions to the company.

19. Ask employees to research holiday celebrations, then share what was learned in a newsletter or memo.

20. Ask employees with young children to bring in a letter from Santa and ask other employees to write a response. If you take the letters to the local Post Office, they might even stamp them with a North Pole postage mark.

21. Invite your local high school choir in to sing carols to your employees. Have plenty of hot chocolate.

22. Guess who. Employees are tagged with a character’s name on their back but can only ask yes/no questions of others to guess which character they are.

23. Survey your employees to learn their favorite Christmas carol and why. Publish the results in your newsletter.

24. In Illinois, all profits from the lottery’s Veterans Cash instant ticket helps support Illinois veterans. Surprise employees by placing a ticket in his or her pay envelope the week before Christmas.

25. Consider sponsoring a wounded warrior for a year and name “all employees” as the sponsor.

26. Right after the holidays, begin a “biggest loser” competition. The holidays packed on the pounds, now let your employees challenge each other to lose them.

27. Plan a re-gifting party shortly after the holidays. Employees can bring in an item they received but might not particularly want. Those who bring in an item can select from others.

• Karla Dobbeck is president of Human Resource Techniques Inc. Reach her at 847-289-4504 or email

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