Why Your Christmas Party Won’t Improve Engagement

sad woman at work during the holidays

Depending on the organization’s culture, sometimes workplace Christmas parties can be a great time where everyone feels relaxed and comfortable.  But even if that happens, it’s a mistake to rely on one Christmas party a year to ensure ongoing engagement in your organization. It’s just not enough. Employees need to feel consistently valued, appreciated and connected to the organization all year round, for there to be long term benefits for everyone. 

Plus, let’s face it, you can’t just snap your fingers and make comfort and camaraderie happen.  Most of us have known the feeling of being at an office Christmas party where the tension was so thick we’d rather have dental surgery without any anesthetic than go through that again.  The reason? Being comfortable with people at work usually takes time and shared positive experiences.   

If, for the rest of the year, your employees are focused on their computer screens, answering calls or running to meetings, it can be a tall order to expect that everyone will be best friends just because there’s a Christmas party. 

As noted in a Harvard Business Review article entitled, “4 Reasons to Kill the Office Holiday Party – and One Reason to Save It,” Julia Kirby writes, “No one mingles. Let’s start with a paper by Paul Ingram and Michael Morris of Columbia University called “Do People Mix at Mixers?” The short answer: not much. Using electronic name tags to track the social interactions of 100 business people at a social gathering, the study found that people overwhelmingly stuck with people they already knew, even when they had “overwhelmingly stated before the event that their goal was to meet new people.” 

There are other reasons why it might be a bit more challenging to engage all employees at a workplace Christmas party.  

  • Some people are much busier with other social events and obligations at that time of year 
  • There are cultural sensitivities to consider with employees from diverse backgrounds
  • Alcohol consumption might result in unwanted interactions at the party
  • Costs can run high for businesses on a stricter budget
  • It can be a tough time for those who suffer mental illness, losses of family or friends and financial stresses

As noted in a Globe and Mail article called, “The party’s over? Workplace Holiday Celebrations Scaled Back,” by Joel Schlesinger, “We certainly hear ‘I am so busy. I have to do my Christmas shopping. My in-laws are coming into town; I have the house to get ready, and then I have to go to this party on December 20th? I just don’t have the time,'” so rather than being an enjoyable experience, it becomes an obligation or a chore for employees.

That’s why smart organizations don’t just rely on one party to connect with employees.  They make an effort to engage employees all year round in many different ways. They do this by continuously involving employees in events and experiences that slowly and steadily establish trust, connection and loyalty to other employees and the organization and its values. They also demonstrate appreciation and share organizational goals and outcomes on a regular basis. That’s employee engagement that lasts! 

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