Does my team really want a Christmas party?

Business Insights

Stuart Duff, Head of Development and Partner at Pearn Kandola

I remember reading a survey last year on the Christmas benefits that workers in the UK would most like to receive from their employers. A quarter (25%) of respondents had said that they would like to receive a Christmas bonus and a further 23% said that they would like a pay rise, while just 8% would like to attend a team meal out.

Surveys such as this tend to make the headlines most years, arguing that employees would prefer to receive a cash gift for Christmas than attend an office party, and I’m sure that many business leaders will be wondering how best to approach the issue.

For most businesses, a Christmas party isn’t just a reward for work completed throughout the year. Encouraging staff to come together for a festive social event could also have value as a team-building exercise. But, is a Christmas party more trouble than it’s worth? Are there more effective ways of motivating staff during the festive season?

It’s certainly true that getting to know one another on a more personal level helps to build a sense of connection between team members, which, in turn, reinforces team identity. Simply bringing people together and calling them a team doesn’t make them one. There needs to be a mutual sense of trust, support, cooperation and commitment; to build relationships as people, rather than purely through transactional work-based contact. This is especially important in diverse teams, in which people can take a little longer to connect.

Spending time together in an informal setting, such as a Christmas party, helps to make this happen by allowing team members to build stronger bonds, identify things they have in common, and understand each other’s point of view in a way that they wouldn’t in a formal meeting. After all, people don’t get to know each other when they’re dealing with agendas or reports.

However, the benefit of a Christmas party to both the employer and their team may differ depending on the size of the company.

In many large companies, the office Christmas party is a genuine source of pride throughout the organisation. It’s an event that is anticipated throughout the year; not only as an opportunity for leaders to show their appreciation to their team, but as a chance for the staff themselves to identify as member of the wider organisation and say, “this is who we are.”

It’s also a way of bringing people together, who might not have reason to spend time with or get to know one another on a day-to-day basis. All of these factors can greatly help to increase a team’s brand loyalty, which, in turn, will impact their productivity within the office.

In a smaller company, however, teams probably spend a large amount of time together already, and so there may be less to gain by encouraging them to spend additional time with one another outside work. My advice to any leaders that are planning a function for such an organisation is to make it an optional event. And by that, I mean genuinely optional – not one where people are allowed to be subtly critical or dismissive of those who have decided, for whatever reason, not to come along.

Making an informal event compulsory, or creating an atmosphere where people feel they need to be there, not only removes the ability to demonstrate personal commitment or engagement, but forcing staff to socialise when they already do so on a daily basis can actually create splits within the team. People should have the option to say, “thanks, but no thanks.”

There are a few different ways for small companies to get around this. The festive season can be an incredibly busy few weeks, so if giving up time is an issue, smaller organisations could consider alternatives such as a Christmas lunch within working hours, or closing the office early for their party. Alternatively, it could be more feasible to host smaller events throughout the year, as opposed to one lavish party.

Ultimately, the most satisfied and productive teams will be able to demonstrate a combination of professional and personal relationships. Informal events, such as a Christmas party, can certainly be a great way of strengthening these bonds, but leaders must remember that an extravagant function isn’t the right approach for every organisation.

I would advise leaders to listen carefully to their teams. There’s always value in encouraging staff to develop strong bonds outside of the office, but there’s nothing to be gained by forcing them to attend an event that they would rather not be involved with. To build strong, lasting bonds, let the team inform how they want to spend time with one another this Christmas.