Bringing team members together to eat, drink, and be merry can be a great way to show that you appreciate them and value all their hard work.
But to make sure every person feels seen and welcomed, you will want to organize an inclusive end-of-the-year party.
That means designing your event to be accessible and enjoyable to team members of all backgrounds and social identities.
We know that sounds like a lot. The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone, and there are helpful resources available to guide you.
This article covers the basics you need to know to plan an inclusive end-of-the-year for a small team. We also share links to additional resources if you want to learn more.
What is an inclusive end-of-the-year party?
An inclusive end-of-the-year party is one that every member of your team can attend and enjoy. To put together an inclusive end-of-the-year party, you need to be aware of people’s diverse identities and experiences.
That’s because including someone isn’t the same as inviting them or even or accommodating them.
Syracuse University’s guide to planning inclusive events, created by the university’s Disability Cultural Center, says that “it is necessary to go beyond simply accommodating or acknowledging people’s differences, and instead, to create events that are universally designed—accessible to everyone.”
That means ensuring a positive, and ideally identical, experience for all who attend. In a truly inclusive end-of-the-year party, there should be no barriers to participation, no discomfort—for anyone.
Diversity and inclusion expert Paolo Gaudiano says that “inclusion is what you do.” He believes that to be inclusive, companies need to actively prevent experiences of exclusion and make changes when these negative experiences occur.
Office holiday parties have traditionally made people of certain backgrounds and faiths feel excluded. By organizing an inclusive end-of-the-year party, you will be taking real action to make your company welcoming to all employees.
How to host an inclusive end-of-the-year party
Here are a few suggestions to consider when organizing an inclusive end-of-the-year party for your team.
Ask about needs and preferences
Ask team members about their needs and preferences. One way to do that is to send a survey to find out what type of celebration, theme, and date/time they prefer, as well as whether they have any dietary restrictions and/or special needs.
Pick a date and time that works for everyone
When scheduling an end-of-the-year party, make sure that it doesn’t conflict with other holidays, festivals, and events that might be important to members of your team. The time of the event is also important. If you have employees who are parents of young children, for example, scheduling the party to start after 5 pm might end up excluding them.
Make it optional
Give team members the option to not participate—and make sure they (and their managers) know that it’s okay not to attend. There are multiple reasons why people may not be comfortable attending an office holiday party, including religious ones. (Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, don’t celebrate most holidays, including Christmas.) Team members might also be going through personal life changes that make it painful or difficult to celebrate.
Choose a neutral theme
Move away from themes with an association to a particular religion; i.e. don’t throw a Christmas-themed party. Instead, opt for a neutral theme everyone can get behind, like Winter Wonderland, Ugly Sweater, Dream Vacation, or Colors—and decorate accordingly.
Consider dietary restrictions
Provide great food for everyone—including vegetarian, vegan, and pork-free options. It’s best to separate meat options from veggie/vegan options since some people don’t enjoy (or can’t) consume food that has touched meats.
If your end-of-the-year party is virtual this year, send employees gift cards so they can get their favorite foods delivered to their homes.
Consider alcohol and other types of restrictions
For various reasons, certain team members may not consume alcohol. Make non-alcoholic beverages available and ask that they be served the same way alcoholic drinks are served.
Also, there may be people on the team who don’t feel comfortable being in environments where alcohol is served, or where there is dancing and secular music playing. In this case, a common solution is to organize a party in two parts—in the first part, there can be speeches and announcements, food and non-alcoholic beverages; in the second, music and alcohol.
If your holiday party is virtual this year, consuming alcohol might not even be necessary. You can still send employees gift cards so they can get beverages delivered.
Make it accessible
Consider your employees’ needs and plan your event so that it’s safe and accessible to everyone.
Consider all barriers to participation, including physical and financial. For example, if your end-of-the-year party involves gifting, consider providing employees with an amount they can use towards buying their gift.
Tips for organizing an inclusive event
Ask for help
Don’t try to organize an inclusive end-of-the-year party all on your own; it’s best to get your team’s perspective before making any decisions. If possible, enlist the help of volunteers to plan the event.
Be careful not to burden employees who might already have too much going on, especially your diverse talent.
Focus on the people
Instead of highlighting traditions that may exclude certain members of the team, focus on milestones and individual accomplishments. There are many fun ways to highlight memorable moments and achievements.
For example, you can host an award ceremony, put together a video with a collection of the best moments of the year, or ask employees to submit their greatest wins and favorite memories.
A few days after the celebration, send out a survey to find out what employees thought of the event and if they have suggestions for next year’s end-of-the-year party.
Give them the option to answer anonymously so they can feel safe providing honest feedback. (If they do choose to identify themselves, make sure you follow up with them about any negative feedback and requests, to show that you value their opinion.)
Organize an inclusive end-of-the-year party
An office holiday party should be all about celebrating the people who contribute every day to making the company successful. It’s an opportunity to show employees gratitude, respect, and appreciation.
When organizing an end-of-the-year party, it’s important to consider that team members have different identities and experiences.
It’s best not to make assumptions about their needs and preferences, but to ask them instead. Do this as early as possible so that you can design an inclusive end-of-the-year party.
Check out our other articles on the topic of inclusion in the workplace:
- Belonging in the Workplace: What It Means and Why It Matters
- Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace: 10 Common Mistakes
For more detailed information on how to host an inclusive end-of-the-year party, check out these helpful resources:
- The 2021 Interfaith Calendar lists major religious days and Holy Days
- The University of Michigan’s Accessible & Inclusive Events Resource Guide is a comprehensive guide for hosting inclusive large events
- The University of Arizona’s Guide To Planning Accessible and Inclusive Events provides a brief overview of how to organize events that are inclusive to disabled people