Holiday parties, especially those associated with a specific religion, like Christmas parties, have grown less popular among employers in recent years. That also seems to be true where employees are concerned. In one survey, only 36 percent of respondents felt holiday parties were fun, while 5 percent hate holiday parties (which leaves a bunch of people in the middle rating holiday parties as "meh").

All of which might lead you to think your employees don't expect a party for the holidays.

Especially in startups where the staff is relatively small, most employees do expect some sort of holiday party. And many startup founders still love to throw them, because holiday parties can become an important part of the culture--and a great way to bring employees, and their partners, together.

So how can you navigate potentially tricky holiday parties and make yours a success? Here are some tips.

1. Start by asking. 

I know. You already plan to hold a holiday party. Even so: Ask your employees if they would enjoy one. Most will say yes. A few might say no, but at least they will feel they've been given a voice, which makes the party feel a lot less mandatory than it otherwise might.

And who knows? The majority of your employees might say they would prefer not to have a party. While that might not be fun to hear, at least you'll know not to hold an event most employees will grudgingly attend.

And one more thing: don't ask employees for input on the actual party--venue, entertainment options, etc.--unless you are willing to act on that input. Otherwise, you risk creating expectations that you may not be able to meet.

One thing you do need to discuss with your employees is food for the party. Are there any special dietary needs you should be aware of, or food allergies to consider? Be thoughtful of those with different preferences or requirements to ensure everybody can enjoy your event.

2. Be thoughtful with alcohol.

Some people drink. Others do not. Make sure you're inclusive of those who do and those who don't. There's room for everyone at a holiday party.

Just make sure you limit your consumption to one or two drinks. That way, if someone starts to get a little out of hand, you can smoothly step in before they do something they might later regret.

Even though it may be an after-hours holiday party, you're still a leader. Make sure you're in a position to act that way.

3. Invite significant others.

Make them a part of the celebration. That way, the party won't just feel like an extension of work.

Plus, inviting your employees' partners gives you the chance to:

4. Make a brief speech.

Gratitude matters--and makes a huge difference. Holiday parties can be a perfect way to extend a culture of recognition and praise.

At some point during the event, preferably early on, take the time to make a short speech thanking everyone for their hard work throughout the year and recognize a few accomplishments (team, not individual).

And make sure you include significant others. Say something like, "I would also like to thank all the spouses, partners, and significant others who support and care for the people who work here. You may not know it, but you are also a part of our team--and we thank you for it."

5. Consider an activity.

Go to enough company parties and you'll notice a common phenomenon: Because employees naturally have work-related conversations with other employees, their partners often feel like a third wheel with nothing to contribute.

An activity can help overcome that problem.

You could take everyone bowling. Or to an escape room.

Or, you could simply incorporate an event into the party itself. A friend held an impromptu "Newlywed Game" at a company party, choosing three employees and their partners to be contestants and asking them a series of silly questions. Everyone else gathered around and joined in the fun, turning what had been a stand-and-chat affair into an event people talked about for days after.

You can do the same.

Ask a few of your more creative employees to come up with an idea that will turn your holiday party into an event everyone will remember.

After all, memories build cultures.

Published on: Nov 21, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.