Planning an Office Party? Here’s How to Handle 6 Tricky Situations

Part of an office admin’s party planning process comes with tricky spots to navigate. Check out these common issues and learn how you can handle them like a pro.

As the office’s resident party-planner, you know that the task can be fun — but it can also put you right in the middle of some tricky social situations. The point of a workplace gathering is to boost office camaraderie and have a good time. But, of course, complications can arise.

Check out these potential office party trouble spots and learn how you can avoid them.

Traditions That Leave People Out

Showers are the go-to way to fete co-workers getting married or having a baby. But these events are usually women-only — a tradition that can lead to grumbling from both men and women in the office. Men may feel left out, especially if work talk comes up during the party and decisions get made over the punch and cake. Women, meanwhile, may dread these events because they’re being asked to pony up cash for presents while the men in the office aren’t.

To make this work, organize gatherings during the workday that are positioned as celebrations, not showers. Make it clear that everyone is welcome, and briefly describe the planned “agenda” so that people are reassured these events won’t be like traditional showers. Forget any idea of making hats with bows, or measuring expectant mothers with toilet paper. Instead, order a cake, take up a collection for a gift and congratulate your coworker on their upcoming nuptials or bundle of joy.

Donation Requests That Feel Like a Burden

Certain office parties might require you to ask your coworkers to chip in for gifts for employees' birthdays or other special occasions. The trouble spot is that not everyone wants — or even can afford — to donate for all events.

Provide some suggestions that give people the option to sidestep cash donations. Colleagues who aren’t in a position to donate money can give their time by helping to select the gift, locate a great group card or hang up decorations. Others can make a dish or dessert and bring it to the event itself. An email to the group can list potential ways to contribute. For those who prefer to give money, consider providing a suggested range for how much to donate.

Stereotypes That Make People Simmer

Halloween, Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day parties are all easy to put together, right? Well…not always. Take Cinco de Mayo: Some coworkers of Mexican descent might not appreciate their co-workers clowning around in stereotypical sombreros and ponchos. For parties that touch on cultural heritage, work to avoid cartoonish stereotypes. For example, you could do some quick research into Cinco de Mayo and highlight its history to your team. Try to incorporate culturally authentic food and music into the festivities, and skip the sombreros.

Halloween also abounds with potential issues — usually in the form of costumes that may seem insensitive. Dressing up like a prison inmate might seem callous to somebody with incarcerated family members, for example. Meanwhile, other costumes can just seem in bad taste. An out-in-front email emphasizing the fun in store (food, activities, etc.) along with a note to be sensitive and avoid certain types of costumes can help to ward off trouble. Often your coworkers will just need a reminder to do the right thing.

Menus That Don’t Satisfy All Appetites

Nothing can derail someone’s festive mood faster than realizing they can’t eat anything at the event — or worse, experiencing an allergic reaction. Food can bring your team together, as long as dietary restrictions are taken into account.

To cover your bases, send out an email asking for an updated list of allergies or sensitivities. People can develop allergies at any age, and the only way to stay up to date on these is to do a pre-event check-in. Consider sending a follow-up email to let yourself off the hook for meeting any requirement that hasn’t been specified. In this note, let co-workers know which foods will be left off the menu.

If someone does have limitations on what they can eat, ask that person for ideas of food items that accommodate their diets. They have likely spent years searching for and finding good alternatives for themselves, and their recommendations can make menu planning easier for you.

Drinks That Don’t Wet All Whistles

The number of company events featuring alcohol is shrinking, for a couple of reasons — most notably, nervousness that coworkers might over-imbibe and behave unprofessionally. Last year, 49 percent of companies served alcohol at company parties, compared to nearly 62 percent the year before, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

If you do plan to serve alcohol, offering limited drink tickets or a cash bar can prevent co-workers from overindulging. It’s also a good idea to provide food right away, because drinking on an empty stomach can quickly increase the effects of alcohol.

Also, be sure to provide plenty of festive non-alcoholic beverages. The options for good, alcohol-free drinks is growing. From Moscow Mules to margaritas to mojitos, almost every popular cocktail has a tasty “mocktail” version.

Events That Turn Into Playgrounds

Deciding whether or not to invite kids to a company event can leave you in a tricky spot. Staff without children may not want the office party to turn into a daycare, while your colleagues with kids may want to avoid arranging for a babysitter — the trouble and expense of having to find child care might cause them to skip the party entirely.

The timing of the event is key. An evening party outside of work hours? Probably not kid-friendly. Even parents who want to show off their adorable offspring won’t have fun when tired little ones are running around a party after bedtime. Weekend daytime events, on the other hand, are much better for inviting kids. If you do invite children, ensure that everyone, including parents, has a good time by planning activities to keep the kids busy. Either offer on-site childcare or hire a small team to do magic shows, play games and otherwise ensure that kids and grown-ups can enjoy the party.

Whether children are invited to the event or not, be sure to make it clear in the invitation. Briefly explain your logic so that there are no misunderstandings. If kids are not invited, a message along the lines of “To keep the focus on celebrating our team’s huge accomplishments this year, we ask that you leave your children at home” should suffice.

When planning the next office party, think about what has and hasn’t worked in the past. Ask for coworker feedback to get a better idea of how you can create the ideal office celebration that is fun for everyone.