Weekend Poll results: the state of office and network holiday parties in 2021

For some, 2021 marks a return to in person Christmas/holiday parties

I asked and, as always, readers responded! Thanks for taking part in this latest Weekend Poll. Let’s start by comparing this year’s plans with what did – or, more to the point, didn’t – happen for many in 2020.

A whopping 59% of respondents said December 2020 passed by without holiday/Christmas parties for your workplaces. Last December, 23% of respondents’ employers hosted virtual events to mark the holidays, and another 9% hosted in person events. Nine percent of respondents reported there were no 2020 office parties; instead, funds usually allocated for that purpose went to gifts or charity.

That was last year. This year, 63% of respondents have in person holiday parties on their calendars. They won’t all be as large in scale, though, as in previous years. More than one in five respondents, 21%, said your 2021 in person parties will be hosted in smaller groups across your organisations. 

Virtual parties are still a thing; 8% of respondents said your employers are hosting virtual holiday events. 

Employers not hosting parties have good reasons for those decisions

Pandemic circumstances and risk levels vary from one community and country to another, and there are also other considerations. In total, 29% of respondents said you won’t be having employer-hosted holiday parties in 2021.

Four percent of respondents said there won’t be a party this year, with budget as the dominant reason. Another 8% of respondents cited a potential further lockdown as the driver behind the decision to not hold parties. There’s also the matter of whether or not people feel comfortable or safe attending such events once again; 17% of respondents said many people in their organisations are not yet ready for this.

What we’re calling these events, and guess who organises them

The term “Christmas” continues to be used at 52% of respondents’ workplaces, while 48% use either the term “holiday” or “seasonal” in referring to such parties and events.

Unsurprisingly, 82% of respondents said you’re the people who organise such functions for your employers. I recall organising such parties for what amounted to hundreds of people, and always enjoyed planning and executing these events. I realise, though, that not everyone enjoys event planning. Perhaps, for my 2022 poll on this topic, I should ask how you feel about being the party planners!

How in person 2021 parties are taking shape

As mentioned, not everyone wants to be part of a crowd – however small – at this point in time. I asked what kind of turnout you’re anticipating for your December 2021 events, and 40% of respondents said people are generally keen to get together once again, and celebrate.

Another 33% said numbers won’t be as high as usual, yet you’re anticipating a good crowd. A further 27% are finding reactions are mixed; some colleagues are keen, yet others are not comfortable with the notion.

One thing is clear. While some said their parties will unfold just as they did in 2019, the majority of these events will look different from past events. People at one organisation are planning a face to face party even though it’ll be early December before they (hope to) have all their staff back in the office again. I think their plans for a meal and drinks at a local  hotel sound nice. One respondent reported plans for a holiday party including a subsidiary company, while another said lunch plans are underway for a department of 300 people.

That doesn’t mean budgets have not been impacted; that is the case for some. In one example, the employer will host lunch and drinks, and dessert will be potluck. Colleagues at that organisation will bring their favourite holiday treats. It’s not uncommon for executives and other leaders to host parties at their residences, and that’s the plan for one respondent and her colleagues.

 One Swedish reader said this will not look like parties past; instead, there will be a morning get together with a nonalcoholic Swedish variation of glüwine (think of mulled wine) and gingerbread cookies. There are different reasons for scaling back (or not hosting) such parties, and I think risk management is among them. One reader reported that only vaccinated employees will be able to attend this year’s party. Another reader said there will be an employer-approved Christmas party. However, the employer will not be involved, and colleagues will fund the party themselves.


Virtual parties

Yet another reader reported plans for a two-pronged approach: Plans are underway, for a second year, for a company-wide virtual concert. In addition, there will be smaller, team-based virtual events.

People continue to be creative, resourceful … and generous. If you check my LinkedIn post of last week, you’ll see one gracious reader offered there to share her White Elephant PowerPoint template with anyone who was interested.

What other ideas are assistants working with for this year’s virtual holiday parties? Think paint parties, chocolate tasting, ugly sweater contests, a virtual holiday magic show, a game of Pictionary using Zoom’s whiteboard function. There’s more. Some are going with chocolate tasting, while others are making ornaments and having lunches delivered. Holiday cookie decorating, a scavenger hunt, trivia challenges and identifying colleagues from childhood Christmas photos are also on the radar.


Good, old-fashioned networking

Not everyone will have a workplace holiday party on their calendar this year, nor do all respondents want one. I asked if readers whose employers are not hosting holiday events will get together informally with some of their closest colleagues for a celebration this December. Almost half, 47%, said yes. For 35%, though, this is not the year. Another 18% are unsure; circumstances will dictate whether or not they get together with close colleagues.

 Networks and professional associations can have a huge impact on assistants, both professionally and personally. Roughly a quarter of respondents were uncertain in early November as to whether or not their networks will host a 2021 event; their associations were in the process of gauging members’ interest.

A full 74% of respondents said their networks are hosting parties – whether they’re in person, or virtual –  to celebrate the season. 

Social creatures

I closed this year’s poll on December parties by asking readers who will be attending an in person workplace or network party  what you’re especially looking forward to. The joy of once again seeing people in a social setting topped the list. What else? Next came a fun afternoon or night out, followed by hugs, dressing up, and getting out of the house! 

The data: readers’ responses to this Weekend Poll

1. On a scale from 1 (dislike them) to 3 (love them), how do you usually feel about office holiday parties?

  • 14%: I don’t like attending them
  • 72%: I enjoy them
  • 14%: I love them

2. Do you typically coordinate Christmas/holiday parties for your organisation?

  • 82% Yes
  • 18%: No

3. Which of the following most closely reflects the term your organisation uses to refer to such events?

  • 52%: Christmas party/event
  • 44%: Holiday party/event
  • 4%: Seasonal party/event

4. Did your employer host a holiday/Christmas party in 2020?

  • 59%: No, we didn’t have a party
  • 23%: Yes; we had a virtual event
  • 9%: Yes; we had an in person event
  • 9%: We didn’t have a party; funds usually allocated to a party went to gifts or charity

5. Will your employer be hosting a holiday/Christmas party in 2021?

  • 42%: Yes, an in person event
  • 21%: Yes, though in smaller groups across the organisation
  • 17%: No; many people are not yet ready for this
  • 8%: Yes; a virtual event
  • 8%: No; a potential further lockdown is the primary reason
  • 4%: No; budget is the dominant reason
  • 0%: It’s not yet been determined

6. If your employer is hosting an in person party this year, what kind of turnout do you expect based on RSVPs and/or feedback to date?

  • 40%: People are generally keen to get together again, and celebrate
  • 33%: Numbers won’t be as high as usual, yet we’ll have a good crowd
  • 27%: Reactions are mixed; some are keen, and others don’t feel comfortable with this

7. If your employer is hosting an in person party this year, will it be comparable to those of past years, scaled back, or – ? Please offer brief details. Please note: There were a number of responses that were similar in nature (“out of office party”, “It’ll be a smaller event”, and so on), and so I did not include repeated variations on the same response in the list below.

  • 40%: People are generally keen to get together again, and celebrate
  • 33%: Numbers won’t be as high as usual, yet we’ll have a good crowd
  • 27%: Reactions are mixed; some are keen, and others don’t feel comfortable with this
  • We’re having a face to face one. Our staff are not all back in the office yet, but we hope to be by early December. We’re just going out for a meal and a few drinks at a local hotel. 😊
  • Yes, it will also include subsidiary company
  • We’re having a holiday lunch for our department of 300. We have a very limited budget to do this being a charity and as we enter a recovery and renewal phase so while we will provide lunch and drinks – we will also do a bit of potluck and ask everyone to bring their own favorite holiday treat to share with everyone.
  • We are having an in person party at our head of school’s home.
  • We are having an out of the office party like back in 2019 🙂
  • It will not. It is just a morning get together with a nonalcoholic Swedish variation of glüwine and gingerbread cookies.
  • It’ll be the same as usual
  • We’ll have an event, but it will be smaller than in the past
  • Holiday dinner at a local restaurant – love helping a local business
  • It will be very similar to previous years but there will be masks involved.
  • It will be like past years
  • A decision has not yet been made as to the size/scale of the party, but it will probably be scaled back
  • We are doing a virtual concert company wide like we did last year. Additionally, in smaller groups, we will host our own team virtual events.
  • Scaled back. Only vaccinated staff will be allowed to attend.
  • Our employer agrees (we can) host a Christmas party, but he is not involved, and we will pay (for it) ourselves.
  • I was not involved in the planning this year. However, I feel there may be some budget constraints along with the current Covid situation, that might have prevented a the traditional end of year of event.
  • It’ll be scaled back compared to past years, but it’ll be nice to get together again socially.

8. If your employer is hosting a virtual party this year, what approach/theme/activities are planned? Your response may be helpful to others who are sorting through ideas and looking for inspiration.

  • We are also having a virtual event for 70 people with a workshop on our culture and values – and an escape room for fun
  •  I created a (PPT) Virtual White Elephant Gift Exchange that I will be hosting for my small (14 person) team.
  • virtual paint party/paint night
  • chocolate tasting
  • Concert
  • Gingerbread kits delivered to everyone, to decorate/Gingerbread wars
  • Ugly sweater contest
  • virtual holiday magic show
  • We’ll play Pictionary, using Zoom’s whiteboard function
  • trivia
  • ornament making, with lunches delivered
  • I’m working on creating a scavenger hunt
  • holiday cookie decorating
  • We have a small group. We asked everyone to send in a picture of them as a kid at Christmas, and will make a slideshow for a contest to guess who’s who.

9. If your employer is not hosting an in person party, do you plan to get together informally with some of your closest colleagues to celebrate the holidays?

  • 47%: Yes
  • 35%: No, not this year
  • 18%: I’m not sure; it depends on circumstances

10. If your employer is not hosting a 2021 holiday party, and is instead using the budget traditionally allocated for such a party in some other way – for example, gift cards for employees, or donations to charities – how is the organisation allocating such funds?

  • Funds will be split equally between departments per head for a lunch or gift to be purchased
  • not sure/I don’t know/no idea
  • No party, no donation charity, no gift cards for the employees
  • We still get (a) small amount since they are doing a company wide concert
  • electronic gift cards for employees

11. If you’re part of a professional association or network, will that group host a 2021 holiday/Christmas party?

  • 32%: Yes
  • 26%: Yes; in person
  • 26%: We’re unsure; gauging members’ interest
  • 16%: Yes; virtual

12. If you are attending an in person holiday/Christmas party this year, whether through your workplace or a professional association or network, what are you especially looking forward to?

In descending order, the following list reflects peoples’ responses. Seeing people in social settings again was the top pick!

  • seeing people in a social setting again
  • a fun night/afternoon out
  • hugs
  • dressing up
  • getting out of the house
  • a sense of normalcy

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