Practice Management

Treat your staff to a festive get-together, but don’t talk shop

By Beatrice Paez |

Throwing a holiday office party is one way to celebrate your team's accomplishments throughout the year and to show your appreciation. As the manager of the practice, you have a specific role as host. You are responsible for rallying people together and fostering a festive atmosphere.

"It's not an opportunity to be one of the employees," says Dianne Hunnam-Jones, district president of Robert Half in Toronto. "You have to introduce people and help make the networking happen."

A full buffet spread and an open cocktail bar are not enough to get people to interact. You have to be visible and attentive to the mood in the room.

Your holiday party can be festive and fun if you avoid these common mistakes:

> Asking for contributions
Plan a party based on what your budget can afford. While you can involve the staff in organizing the holiday party, expecting your staff to cover a portion of the expenses of a bigger bash would be in poor taste, says Hunnam-Jones. Leave it up to your team members to decide whether they want to pitch in.

For example, you might delegate the responsibility of choosing music and decorations to members of your team. But the staff shouldn't feel pressured to bring a tray of appetizers or baked goods to keep the party going.

If money is tight, find a way to cut costs and make compromises while still keeping your staff in good spirits. Instead of renting a venue, for example, you might hold it at the office but still offer dinner.

> Being  a "wallflower" — or worse
If you're the host, you can't play the role of a casual observer, munching away in a corner and waiting for people to make their way to you. You have to actively participate in conversations among attendees, Hunnam-Jones says.

Worse yet is failing to even attend the staff gathering, she adds. That sends the message that you have little regard and appreciation for the staff's hard work.

> Raising work issues
The yearend speech, which reflects on the challenges endured and milestones hit, is the only time you should talk shop. Otherwise, keep the conversation light and steer clear of any work-related topics.

A holiday gathering isn't an opportunity to "coach" someone on his or her weaknesses, says Hunnam-Jones. Instead, when you "work the room," focus on thanking every member of your team for his or her contributions.

One way of keeping the mood light is to hold a series of icebreakers or games that encourage people to mingle with one another. 

> Sticking around until the end
At some point, the manager needs to make an exit before the crowd begins trickling out. Unless the party is at your home, Hunnam-Jones says, if you're the last one cleaning up and packing leftovers, that's a sign that you've likely overstayed your welcome: "Your employees want to get on and have fun without you."

This is the first part in a two-part series on holiday party etiquette. Next: Attending a holiday party as a guest.

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