How To Throw A Recession Era Company Holiday Party

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Today I’d like to share with you my thoughts on the upcoming holiday season and that most complex event: the company holiday party that coincides with an economic meltdown.
Despite the weak economy, or, perhaps, because of it, most companies in the United States plan to carry on with their holiday parties. As a leader in attendance at this event, it’s important to strike a tone that is festive without appearing to lose sight of the larger context. Remember that even in this non-office setting all eyes will be on you — perhaps even more so because your behavior will be seen as the “real” you.
Company holiday parties remain one of the weirdest hybrids of work and play that I have ever experienced. They’re a veritable minefield in which if you perform well, absolutely no one will remember you; and, if you perform poorly, everyone will remember you for years to come — for all the wrong reasons. In the spirit of ensuring the former and not the latter, I offer these tips:
Get in the Right State of Mind
As a leader, if you’re stressed and fearful, you will reflect this no matter how hard you try to appear confident. The more you feel freaked out, the more people around you will feel freaked out.
Instead, try focusing your attention on the vision for the company and on the positive steps the leadership team is taking to lead the organization through the recession.
I sat in on a senior staff meeting held by one of my clients earlier this week and he was absolutely inspiring. He told his team, “We have to plan for the worst, but we also have to plan for the success that will follow this downturn — because when it comes back, we will see enormous demand.” While acknowledging a rough current situation, he was also reassuring his team that he saw a bright future for the company.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you discuss the prospect of lay-offs or plant closures at the holiday party. However, do keep your mindset positive in the coming weeks so that whenever you are surrounded by employees, that positive energy rubs off on them and your upbeat attitude is authentic.
Choose Your Attire Carefully
This year, even if you are doing well, it’s a good idea to dial down the bling a notch or two. That means leave the gold Rolex at home. You don’t have to wear a Swatch, but be conscientious of flashing a $30,000 timepiece or bragging about the diamond earrings you bought your wife to people who are worried about getting laid off, paying their bills and other basic needs.
Practice Moderation
If you’re as outgoing as I am when stone-cold sober, just imagine how goofy you must look after a few drinks. A general guideline is to drink half as much as you think you should — no matter how drunk everyone else gets.
Be a Careful Conversationalist
In American culture it is natural to define ourselves and others by what they do, and so when getting to know employees’ spouses, we inevitably ask, “What do you do?” But remember, this is a particularly sensitive subject this year as many party-goers may be recently laid off or anticipating a lay-off. Don’t let party conversations turn glum by opening with shop talk. Make this party a chance for people to forget about work and instead, ask about kids, hobbies, music, movies, etc.
These are just a few tips to keep in mind this year. If you’re worried about the economy, imagine how your employees feel! So, be sure to give them at least one night of fun, family and holiday cheer.
This article was written by Jennifer Selby Long for Corporate Logo magazine. Reprinted with permission.
Jennifer Selby Long, founder and principal of Selby Group, provides executive coaching and organizational development services. Long’s knack is helping clients navigate the leadership and organizational challenges triggered by change and growth. She knows firsthand that great plans often fail because companies don’t take into account the human factors that come into play when implementing them. Find out more at

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