Retail Holiday Parties: Dos & Dont’s

Retail Holiday Parties: Do’s & Dont’s

I have been working in retail for a very long time and have attended my fair share of holiday parties both personally and professionally. Also, I have been lucky enough to attend some really amazing and some surreal [for lack of a better word] holiday parties with friends.

Back when I was in college, I worked at a 5 Star Resort, as a concierge, whose business was largely conference based. At times I would work events to help out other departments and, by far, working holiday parties as a cocktail hostess was the most illuminating, educational, and down right entertaining from my perspective but tragic from other’s perspectives. I would love to know the psychology behind why people who are – in their day-to-day lives – professional and reasonable frequently lose both of those traits when they attend a work function.


But I digress…there are a few things I have learned along the way both through experience and through research that I thought was helpful as we are putting the final touches on our party for next month [after the holidays so everyone can be relaxed and enjoy it].

Here were some of the most interesting [and shocking] details on holiday parties:

  • -79% of companies throw holiday parties
  • If your company throws a party outside of working hours, attendance should be voluntary. If it’s not, all non-exempt staff must be paid for their time. (Fair Labor Standards Act.)
  • 40% of workers say they’ve either embarrassed themselves or know someone who has at a work holiday party. And a shocking 23%–1 in 4!–have been reprimanded for their actions. [Source: Fast Company]
  • 3% of respondents said they had had a fling with a colleague at a work holiday party. [Source: Fast Company]

As outlined in an article by The Grindstone, In a recent national survey by nonprofit Caron Treatment Centers, more than half the people who’ve attended work-related outings say they’ve observed the following among colleagues under the influence of alcohol:

  • Seen someone flirt with a co-worker or supervisor (30%)
  • Heard a colleague or supervisor share inappropriate details about themselves or a co-worker (26%)
  • Witnessed someone arguing or becoming aggressive with a colleague or supervisor (19%)
  • Learned of co-workers or supervisors engaging in sexual activity while under the influence of alcohol (9%)

This year our plan to celebrate, recognize, and party with our team is a little different. In year’s past we have planned a function for a Sunday after store hours so that all of our team members could attend after work. It was short and fun but not what we wanted it to be [you know how exhausting retail is during the holidays]. So this year we are treating all of our Store Managers and Assistant Managers to spa days during the holiday and we have scheduled our holiday/wrap up party for Friday, January 15th. And though our business will be shuttered by then, we still need to ensure that we are treating this event as a responsible work function.


Here are the best pieces of advice for company sponsored holiday parties [and absolutely things we will be aware of during ours]:

From the awesome Tim Sackett:

  1. You are not going to make everyone happy – so don’t try. Make the “right” decision for the masses. The worst HR in the world is when you make a decision based on one squeaky wheel. “Well, this year we aren’t going to serve alcohol because Mike found religion and doesn’t agree with it any longer – but I’m sure the rest of us (435 employees) will be alright with it.” No they won’t – they found religion too and their religion lets them drink!
  2. Having alcohol at your party might be the worst professional decision you’ll ever make. What!? But you just said… Let’s be clear, some very bad things can happen, and you are responsbible – you’re the HR Pro – you are advising your executives. If you gave people an option of having two drinks or a $50 Best Buy card – which would they choose? How much safer is that for your organization? Don’t take this decision lightly!
  3. You need to be the chaperone. If you decide to have alcohol, someone has to be the adult, and since you are probably going to be the one leading the investigation after the fact – well, it might as well be you.

From Geoff Williams, as published on Huffington Post:

  • No pictures, please. Protecting workplace behavior and minimize legal risk, offers some interesting idea about bringing cell phones, cameras and camcorders to holiday office parties. Namely: Don’t do it. “Take no pictures of the party,” “There’s no reason to record someone else’s holiday silliness. If everyone followed this rule, there would be no problems.”

If creating lasting memories is important to you, then at least designate one responsible person to be the company’s photographer — especially if alcohol is being served at the party.

Get a commitment from your team to not to post anything compromising or embarassing on Facebook and Twitter. This all sounds a little ridiculous, but employees should feel free to relax and blow off some steam without worrying that they’re going to wind up immortalized online, looking unprofessional.

  • Be inclusive. The larger the company, the more cliques you probably have. “Networking with people inside or outside your company is important,” says Thom Singer, a business development consultant in Austin, Texas, who has thrown more than a few office parties. “Shared experiences help build bonds.”
  • Let people know what to expect. Once you have the details in place, don’t forget to set the parameters for your employees. If it’s a casual affair, they will want to know that. If you institute a no-camera policy, tell them ahead of time. If spouses or significant others are invited, let them know. Nobody wants to walk into a party surprised.
  • If there is a choice between an office party and a bonus, opt for the bonus,” says Diane Gottsman, who owns and runs The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in corporate etiquette training. “Generally, the employees would prefer the extra cash. For smaller offices, take a poll and let the employees decide.”

The incredible Eric B. Meyer, of The Employer Handbook offers these tips:

  • Remind employees that the same anti-harassment rules in your handbook apply at the holiday party, regardless of location. More imporantly, make sure that your employees are aware of your anti-harassment policy. Post and dissemenate it.
  • Make sure that there is plenty of water and other non-alcoholic beverages available. Also, avoid the salty snacks, as they tend to promote more liquid consumption.
  • Assign a non-drinking supervisor to monitor alcohol consumption and overly rambunctious or socially uninhibited behavior.
  • Cut off anyone who appears intoxicated.
  • Do not hang mistletoe. Also, do the high school prom thing and separate the touchy-feely dancers.
  • Have plenty of designated drivers and cab vouchers available.
  • Utilize drink tickets to limit alcohol consumption. Cut off the booze well before the party ends.
  • If you witness inappropriate behavior, report it (even if you are not the victim).
  • If anyone (male or female, employee or guest) does raise a complaint where it sounds like someone has engaged in unlawful harassment at the party, take that complaint very seriously. In all seriousness, have a employment attorney on speed dial just in case.
  • Investigate any complaints that are raised, just as you would a reported incident in the workplace.

And the brilliant minds at Monster offer some spectacular advice for the party-goers, which we happily share with our team:

According to business etiquette expert Hilka Klinkenberg, the cardinal rule is to remember that no matter how festive the occasion, it’s still about business. Don’t fall off the fast track to success or risk damaging your professional reputation in one night of inadvertent blunders. Ms. Klinkenberg offers the following advice to ensure a smooth, enjoyable evening:

  • Eat, drink and be merry — in moderation. If you choose to drink, do so minimally.
  • Dress appropriately for the occasion. Ms. Klinkenberg says this rule especially applies to women who sometimes use company parties to strut their stuff. Leave anything short, tight or revealing in the closet. You’ve worked hard to create a professional image, and revealing clothes can alter your coworkers’ and manager’s perception of you as a competent professional.
  • Your company party may be the only time you see the president, CEO or VPs in person. Introduce yourself. This is a great opportunity to become visible to your organization’s higher-ups. At the very least, don’t spend the entire evening with your regular office buddies — get in the holiday spirit and mingle with all your coworkers.
  • Find out who can come to the event. Spouses and significant others are not always on the guest list. If your company hasn’t clarified this…ask to avoid an uncomfortable sitation
  • If you’ve been a star performer in your organization, you may be honored with a toast. Accept the honor gracefully, but don’t drink to yourself or clap when others are applauding you. Also, make a toast to the person who toasted you, thanking him for the recognition.
  • Pay attention to the time you arrive and when you leave. Even if you don’t really want to attend, avoid arriving 20 minutes before the end just to make an appearance. On the flip side, don’t party into the wee hours either. Coworkers and managers will notice both errors in judgment.
  • Be sure to thank those who coordinated the party. They likely put in a great deal of effort hoping you would have a good time. Not only is saying thank you the nice thing to do, but it also makes you stand out from those that will take this event for granted.

-Have fun!

Here are a few more helpful tips from Bustle:

DON’T: Talk Incessantly About Work
DON’T: Trash-Talk Your Boss
DON’T: Overshare, Especially with Your Subordinates or Your CEO
DO: Dress Up [Again]
DON’T: Dress Up Inappropriately
DO: Practice Moderation when Imbibing [Never too many reminders of this one]
DON’T: Dance Like No One is Watching
DO: Exercise Restraint with Regards to Social Media

Holiday parties can be a great time for everyone. With planning and caution it is an event that can bring your team closer and forge great new working relationships and reinvigorate team spirit for the new year ahead. Happy Holidays!


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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