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How do you keep the holiday party from stumbling out of the gate?

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Question: "Every year our boss wants our admin team to host some sort of game at our holiday party before it really gets going, and every year people suffer through it for 20 minutes when all they really want to do is eat and chat. You can sense their boredom; these are just not 'activity' folks. Can anyone help with a suggestion for something that might actually intrigue people?" - Susanne, Customer Care Representative

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Trisha December 9, 2014 at 12:46 pm

One year, I made up a huge (and I mean HUGE!) Jeopardy game board and tacked it to the wall. I went online to find actual Jeopardy categories and answers and typed and printed each on 11 x 8.5 paper (so they could be easily seen and read… my printing stinks!). I taped the dollar amounts on separate sheets to cover the questions. Everyone divided into teams and the team with the most money at the end of the game won a prize.

It was a lot of work to create but everyone really enjoyed it. I think they also liked the fact that it was handmade especially for them and the size of the board was hilarious!


Lisa December 5, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I’m going to go against the flow here, and say, if people just want to “eat and chat,” why force them to participate in an activity? You don’t want the holiday party to be something people dread. I think it would be much better to do a more low-key “eat and chat” event that everyone enjoys, rather than some forced holiday merriment.

We started doing mini-surveys several years ago, asking our staff what types of activities they were interested in for employee events. We found out what they DIDN’T like (the formal, dress-up dinners with lots of boring speeches) and got lots of great suggestions about what they WOULD like to do (like group outings to a baseball game)! We discontinued the unpopular events, and started doing things that most people seem to enjoy.

So why not ask your employees for ideas? But realize that if an overwhelming majority say they don’t want an activity at the party, you’d probably want to honor their feedback.

Just my two cents!


Melody December 5, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I agree with Lisa’s suggestion that it might be best to just not make people go through a game they’re not interested in. I agree because I wouldn’t like it either!! I based my earlier reply, though, on the apparent fact that the boss wants a game so there’s gonna be a game–given that, maybe it’s possible to find something that won’t be too unbearable for the game-averse.


Mark December 20, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I agree whole-heartily with Lisa. If people don’t want games, why force them on them. For our annual party this year, we surveyed all involved. The #1 suggestion – stop doing it around the holidays when everyone is busy and do it in the spring. So, that’s what we are doing. It will no longer be a holiday party, but will instead start being a spring party. The results when we told everyone about this change…..overwhelming relief!


Gwen December 5, 2014 at 8:27 am

White elephant gift exchanges are fun. For the one I’ve been involved in, everyone brings a wrapped gift that NOBODY would want (great for regifting that hideous sweater, old 8-track tape, or do-dad). Guests are given numbers and there is a drawing. The first number drawn selects a gift off the gift table. The next number drawn selects a gift, and before opening, has the option to trade with the first person. This continues with each person having more people with which to trade their gift. It’s a fun activity that doesn’t cost anyone any money since it’s not a “desirable” gift that is given.


Melody December 4, 2014 at 5:39 pm

I’d suggest googling a term like “icebreaker activities.” I’d bet you’ll find some interesting ideas.


Susie December 4, 2014 at 5:39 pm

It takes a bit of planning ahead but we did a bingo game one year with personal facts about different people: someone who has parachuted, climbed a mountain, plays a guitar, has more than three grandchildren, etc. It was a huge contest for the bingo and blackout and it really got people talking to each other. Lots of fun and a great way to get to know each other.


Denise W December 4, 2014 at 5:28 pm

At a recent meeting, we had a team scavenger hunt. The room was split into two teams, each team having a captain. The emcee/host would call out an item, which the teams would frantically search for among themselves, then hand to the captain to get to the host. It was a lot of fast action and fun. The last item the host asked for was 3 belts tied together. It was hilarious to see a bunch of people taking off their belts and throwing them at the captain to tie together.


Judy K. December 4, 2014 at 5:00 pm

We do “creatively wrapped” gifts. Have a table set up at the entrance of the room with a jar and slips of paper to write on your name. As you enter the room, put your gift on the table and put your name on a slip of paper and put it in the jar.
When the time comes for the gift exchange, the host draws a name and the person comes & picks out a gift.
Keep the name slips that were drawn sitting on the table. Then draw the next name. Now you change it up with “Now you have it, now you don’t.” From now on, you can pick a gift from either the table or one of your coworkers that has already has picked a gift. DO NOT OPEN THE GIFTS. If you take a gift from someone who already has a gift, the host puts that name back in the jar. When everyone has a gift the opening begins.
The whole idea is to wrap the gift in a way that everyone would want that gift.
One year one of our coworkers stuffed a pair of pants that he wore that everyone made fun of. His gift was somewhere inside the stuffing. Of course everyone took this gift when their name was drawn.
Have fun!


Eliza December 4, 2014 at 4:55 pm

It depends on the type of business, really. If you work with, say, engineers, it would be best to give them a problem to solve or to put something together. I think Anita has some great ideas here for you. But it really is about your company, the type of business it is and the personnel. Once you have ‘pigeon holed’ your group, use that to come up with some activities to suit that type. No small feat, I know. But, celebrating with co-workers should be a fun event folks can look forward to. And, though I feel as if it’s been done to death, an ugly sweater contest is a fun way for introverts to kind of show they do have a sense of humor. The most introverted person I worked with won the day with what can only be described as an abomination of yarn. It was so funny to see this normally reserved person wearing the WORST sweater I’ve ever seen and by doing so, engaged everyone at the event and literally enhanced participation. Happy Holidays to all!


Audree M. December 4, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Maybe in additin to having a White Elephant gift exchange, you can have the employees write down an interesting fact about themselves (clean and PG of course) and have everyone guess who could the fact be about. It would encourage deeper conversations afterward because it’s a great ice breaker.


Anita December 4, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Susanne, we had to do the same for our holiday parties. The games that were a hit were 1) puzzle teams, where small groups had to solve a tabletop puzzle first (the puzzles that change pictures are more challenging), 2) Wii games, 3) Putt a golf ball into a designated “hole” and 4) Guessing games (ours was about company history such as founder’s names, incorporation date, who’s who). We usually have prizes for the winning teams such as lottery tickets, gift cards in small denominations $5 or $10 and small wrapped gifts.


Ursula December 4, 2014 at 4:07 pm

We play the White Elephant gift exhange and that seems to go over well with our team. – if there are some other great ideas for a team of 30 people, please let me know.


Christine S. December 4, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Our employees sometimes don’t even want to go to our department holiday party. But every year they tell me that they had a lot of fun and brag to those who didn’t make it to the party. We do the “white elephant” gift exchange. It’s so much fun.


A fun event December 4, 2014 at 3:57 pm

We used to do chinese gift exchange or white elephant gift exchange. Those are fun and people really enjoy it.


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