Q: I work as an office manager in a small office and am relatively new. I have been charged with helping to organize our holiday party. My question is: should spouses be included? If not, how do I tactfully address this for our employees?

A: With the upcoming holidays, many office environments become more festive, filling up with good food and holiday cheer. But end-of-the-year celebrations can also bring headaches for management and human resource staff as they try to figure out what is the most appropriate way to acknowledge and celebrate the holidays. While it is hard to say if it qualifies as a trend, some companies are opting out of the big after-hours company celebrations. Rather, they organize a smaller celebration for staff during work hours and distribute individual gift certificates or bonuses.

However, for many other organizations, the holiday party is still an important traditional event and care should be taken in its planning. There is no right or wrong answer to your question; or the answer is, “It depends.” In this case there are several things you will want to think about before jumping in to plan your office holiday party.

  • What is the budget for the event? Has your leadership had input into this? The amount of money you have to spend is a major factor in determining what the party will look like and who to invite.
  • What’s been the past practice of your company in terms of inviting spouses to company parties? Ask around – people will know.
  • If you decide to just invite spouses, you may be setting yourself up for potential criticism and conflict. What about boyfriends, girlfriends and significant others? Why exclude them?
  • What’s the purpose of the party? Some companies use the event as a time to recognize organizational and employee accomplishments. Inviting spouses to this type of event could be very appealing. Or, is the party primarily viewed as a time to reconnect with co-workers in a casual setting?
  • When will the party take place – after work or during work hours? A human resource director that we have long worked with has a rule that her firm follows. If the event takes place after hours and involves a nice dinner, they will invite spouses and others, especially if the event includes alcohol. This firm has worked hard to foster a family-friendly environment and believes it risks sending the wrong message if they do not include significant others at this type of after-hours event.
  • Then again, it depends on the company culture. What does your workforce culture look like? In the prior example, this firm is one that has several middle-aged staff, the majority of which are married or in relationships. Some work cultures are very different. Staff can be much younger with most not in committed relationships. In this case, it may be totally appropriate to organize an after-hours event for staff to socialize without spouses and significant others.

It’s important to note that the above list is not exhaustive. Ultimately, remember that you’re helping to plan a party, the execution of which should not be overly arduous or debilitating. A good way to generate enthusiasm and execute an event that will be well received is to involve a team of employees in planning.

If you have a related question or want to discuss a separate issue, or you require additional feedback, write us. We’re here to help.