11 ways to throw a more inclusive holiday party

Cartoon image of coworkers throwing an inclusive holiday party with karaoke

Inclusive holiday parties at work are more important than ever. The number of people who consider Christmas a religious holiday is declining, and workplace experience managers and HR teams are (finally!) looking beyond Santa to recognize other religions, cultures, and traditions.

Related reading: 15 inclusive holiday greetings to use this December

You can further your diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging goals by showing that everyone is not just welcome, but actively included at your end-of-the-year winter celebration. A party can actually be huge in helping your employees feel seen, valued, and engaged.

For real inclusivity, a little thoughtfulness goes a long way. Keeping the focus of your inclusive holiday party on the people that make your company tick makes this party both fun and rewarding.

Tasked with planning your company’s inclusive holiday party? Here are 11 key tips to incorporate.

1. Ask for employee input.

What date should we have the inclusive holiday work party? Should it be a potluck? Should we do a gift exchange? Where should we have it? Ask your team. Send out a quick survey to your employees asking these questions in yes/no format.

2. Involve your ERGs.

For the most inclusive holiday party ideas, involve your Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). No one is an expert on all cultures, communities, and holidays. Your ERGs can help you with the specific needs or concerns of their specific community, especially if you’re leaving anything (or anyone) out.

3. Offer an inclusive menu.

The most important inclusive holiday party tip is to have good food. We don’t just mean yummy dishes by that, but food that everyone can eat. What’s an inclusive menu? Make sure meat dishes aren’t all pork. Have meat-free options. Go fully plant-based. So many delicious cuisines feature vegetarian and vegan options, including a lot of Middle Eastern food and Indian dishes.

4. Consider an alcohol-free event.

A lot of people don’t drink alcohol, and you should assume that some of them will be at your holiday party. These individuals may choose not to drink because they’re in recovery from a substance abuse disorder, for religious reasons, or out of personal preference. There is no need for you to know exactly why people are sober, and you can easily accommodate everyone without that knowledge.

Even if there is alcohol at your party, make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic options. Go beyond plain water and consider a festive mocktail. With non-alcoholic “no-ABV” drink menus trending at popular restaurants, there are exciting options you can recreate. (Just make sure you’re offering drinks that are truly non-alcoholic; a lot of “non-alcoholic” marketed beers, for instance, still contain a small amount of alcohol.)

5. Be thoughtful with the location.

If you’re holding your inclusive holiday party outside of the office, give thought to the inclusivity and accessibility of the venue. Is it a bar? Is it very fancy? Can a person who uses a wheelchair access it? Is there loud music or flashing lights? Does the venue have a reputation for diversity?

6. Play inclusive games.

Put together a “holiday quiz” to help employees appreciate all the rich traditions at this time of year. A Name That Holiday quiz allows each person to show off their own traditions and educate their peers. Here are some major holidays you can include:

  • Bodhi Day. A Buddhist holiday celebrated on December 8.
  • Christmas. A Christian holiday to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. Secular traditions like tree decorating are popular with non-religious people too. No one knows exactly why it’s Dec 25.
  • Diwali. The five-day Hindu Festival of Lights is celebrated around October or November.
  • Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Two of the biggest Muslim holidays. Eid al-Fitr celebrates the end of the Ramadan fast and Eid al-Adha commemorates when God asked Ibrahim to sacrifice a son.
  • Hanukkah. An eight-day Jewish holiday in December celebrating a menorah miracle.
  • Kwanzaa. A one week holiday from December 26 - January 1 celebrating African American culture and a feast.
  • Lunar New Year. A new-year holiday celebrated in China and Vietnam in February.
  • Songkran (Thailand), Sangkranta (Cambodia), Pi Mai (Laos) - New Year holidays in Southeast Asia usually in April.
  • Nowruz (Novruz, Navruz, Nooruz, Nevruz, Nauryz) - a new year celebration marking the arrival of spring in March celebrated from the Middle East all the way to Central Asia.
  • Yule. A pagan celebration of the winter solstice.
Related resource: PowerToFly's Diversity and Inclusion Calendar

7. Give time off.

Your inclusive holiday party can start early or last all day; ideally, at least some chunk of it will take place during work hours, so that no one is forced to give up personal and family time in order to participate. Make a solid impression and then allow people to go home whenever they want. Better still, give away a floating day off as a prize to winners of your ugly sweater contest, yule log decorations, or holiday quiz.

8. Don’t forget remote employees.

With blended or fully remote teams, you’ll need an inclusive virtual holiday party. Treat your remote team to a meal with their local food delivery app such as Uber, Deliveroo, Rappi, Getir, foodpanda, or Wolt. With a meal in hand, they can join the virtual games and awards for the day. To see a virtual holiday party box example, catch Netflix’s The Circle. This reality TV show is the ultimate prototype for delivering screen-friendly props and fun screentime.

9. Incorporate neutral decor and language.

Remember to keep inclusive holiday party themes neutral. For messaging, “happy holidays” and felices fiestas in Spanish work well. For decorations, go with wintery snowflakes, poinsettias, pinecones, and colors like white, silver, blue, and green. Encourage team members to decorate their space however they choose.

10. Celebrate achievements.

Focus on appreciating your people. Use your inclusive holiday party to celebrate team accomplishments with awards. Try categories like: Customer Champion, Above and Beyond, and Team Player, or make up personalized superlatives for each employee with weigh-in from their team. Crowd-source the nominations ahead of time.

11. Blow your budget.

To budget for your inclusive holiday work party, every company is different. Budgets can range from literally zero funds to hundreds of dollars. If you're a small team, lean on potlucks, awards, and time off to make folks feel appreciated. Large companies will spend $75 - $200 per person. Whatever you have, be generous. This party is one of few chances to boost your team’s sense of belonging away from the daily grind.

Use holidays to celebrate your team.

An inclusive holiday party doesn’t need to focus on religion or a single tradition. When decorations and communications are holiday-neutral, it’s all about the people. Being inclusive about the space, food, and activities can help everyone feel welcome. The reminder that each person’s unique contribution gives personality and strength to the team will end the year on a high note, and can be a great reminder that diverse teams perform better.

Find more resources to grow and celebrate your diverse team in 2024.

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