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Why companies are reconsidering holiday celebrations and what they’re doing instead

Christmas parties have become “holiday” parties to avoid discriminating against those who don’t celebrate Christmas. Companies have stopped serving alcohol at seasonal celebrations for fear of liability for their drunken staff members. “Merry Christmas” has been replaced with “Seasons Greetings” or “Best Wishes for the Holidays” in many company year-end cards to avoid causing offence.

In the age of political correctness and increased religious awareness and sensitivity, employers over the past decade have made changes to their holiday celebrations to promote inclusivity and diversity, to reduce potential liability and to avoid complaints.

These considerations, coupled with the added stress many people feel leading up to the holiday season, have many employers reconsidering their Christmas traditions. In the past several months, we have had numerous conversations with our clients about their desire to no longer host Christmas celebrations. The main reasons:

  • The holiday season is so hectic already that fitting in another event is difficult.
  • It is busy season for every hotel, restaurant, party venue and caterer so the costs are high.
  • Year-end isn’t a good time to organize a big event because workloads are heavy before the holidays.

Are we nearing the end of the corporate Christmas party?

While company parties at Christmas time will likely continue for many employers, there is a growing reluctance to host holiday events. Increasingly popular alternatives include:

  • Holding a summer event: Rather than competing with a busy holiday season, summer picnics, barbecues or boat cruises often allow for a more relaxed, less stressful environment, as well as lower costs.
  • Getting families involved: Family-friendly events throughout the year are becoming popular as an alternative to a Christmas party. Renting a movie theatre for a weekend matinee, having a roller-skating or ice-skating party, attending a baseball game as a group, holding a curling bonspiel or just having a sports day at a local park (think egg races, tug-of-war, water balloon toss) are all great ways for employees to build camaraderie.
  • Hosting a smaller office party: Avoiding the hoopla of a formal Christmas party, many companies are opting for a less costly, more casual social gathering at the office on a workday during the holiday season. Less alcohol is consumed. Less time is required out of an employee’s evening schedule.
  • Getting involved in the community: Participating in a community event or charitable cause as a company is a way to team-build while giving to a good cause. Volunteering in a soup kitchen, holding a food drive or toy drive, putting together food baskets for those less fortunate or any number of other meaningful activities get employees into the holiday spirit.
  • Donating to a cause: Some companies are donating the money otherwise spent on a holiday party to a cause or charity that employees have selected.

It is unlikely that all companies will stop hosting holiday events entirely. We are even seeing the term “Christmas” slowly creep back into regular use. That being said, non-holiday-specific gatherings and events are becoming more and more popular. The common refrain we hear from companies that have switched to having events outside of the winter holidays is that they are more fun and relaxing. If that’s what your company is hoping for, consider the alternatives.   

Cissy Pau is the principal consultant at Clear HR Consulting Inc., a Vancouver-based firm that offers HR consulting and downloadable HR solutions for small businesses. For more information, please visit clearhrconsulting.com.