Instead of putting your colleagues through booze-fuelled blackouts and anxiety-inducing mind blanks, leave them with a positive impression of their employer

Tobias Gourlay  Photos: Max Hetherington

SquareMeal 2017 Christmas magazine - credit max hetherington

The office Christmas party’s got a bad reputation as nothing much more than a chance for hard-pressed employees to drink more than their fill and, for a self-selecting few, to put careers on the line with mistletoe-fuelled misconduct charges.

And, sure, there’s a point in most Christmas parties after which no one can stop the dancing turning into twerking but, before it gets there, businesses have got a big opportunity to make a big impression. So why squander it in a maelstrom of soon-to-be-forgotten (hopefully) cheap fizz, tissue-paper hats and photocopiers?

‘It’s the one event a year you do not want to get wrong,’ says Perrine Chapelain, director of sales, conferences and incentives at Belmond, which hosts high-end festivities aboard the Belmond British Pullman train and at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons hotel.

At its root, the Christmas party is a chance to thank employees and recognise their talent, and – as you’ve got a pliable, captive audience – perhaps also to deliver some key messages. ‘Authentic, meaningful, lasting memories – there’s no better way to show your gratitude,’ reckons Chapelain, who advises firms to organise the internal office bash with the same level of professionalism they’d use to put on something for their most important client.

That’s because employees are at least as important as clients. ‘Successful organisations today have a strong company culture – just look at Google.’ End-of-year celebrations are a chance to bring disparate departments together, to cement the good work that’s been done over the preceding 11-and-a-half months. ‘We like to think in terms of return on engagement, rather than return on investment,’ says Chapelain.

Essentially, the goodwill cuts both ways: put on a good party and employees will recognise what you’ve done for them. The upshot will be a happy, loyal office – even through the dark January days to come – and the productivity benefits that come with that.

What, then, can an organiser do to ensure such rewards are reaped? ‘There’s an intangible element to what makes a good party, but you should definitely make it special by taking it out of the office,’ says Lucy Hume, editorial manager at Debrett’s. ‘It also involves a combination of good food, good drink and good people.’ We can’t guarantee the last of those things but, for the rest, we humbly suggest a glance at our Organiser’s Guide.

You should also be prepared to sweat the small stuff. ‘Where you can really make a difference is in the finer details,’ says Hume. ‘Think carefully about things like invitations, place cards and, if you’re doing them, presents. The more personal they are, the bigger the impression they’ll make.’

Finally, take care over the dress code. ‘It’s part of the experience,’ says Chapelain, ‘and makes it more like stepping into a bubble.’ Beyond making everything that little bit more immersive, a dress code – it doesn’t have to be black tie, but it should be something smart casual, at least – should rein in the worst behavioural excesses.  ‘At the very least,’ reckons Hume, ‘it’s a decent guide for what everyone should wear and you’ll avoid sartorial misadventure.’

This article was first published in Squaremeal Christmas 2016