The sun is about to set on 2012, and what better way is there but to throw a party to mark the end of another year at the workplace? While it may not have been the best year in terms of the economy, it is still worthwhile to organise an office party to remember all that has happened and celebrate the good moments. After all, a great party is the best way for staff to shake off their worries and toast to a more promising future ahead.
The question is – how can HR plan that awesome office party that will get everyone excited? Employees tend to have high standards about their year-end bash – those that go beyond expectations become a legend of sorts within the company; while those that don’t will just add more artillery for the party poopers to complain. Planning an office party is certainly no walk in the park but there is some good advice that will help HR in its efforts.
Keeping the end in mind
When planning, it is important to keep the purpose of the office event in mind. Contrary to what some staff may believe, it is not the opportunity to overly imbibe free alcohol or make advances on their colleagues.
This is especially so in Asia, where office parties are a lot tamer than what some expatriates may be used to back home. The HR department has a tough task ahead as it juggles the many expectations from different parts of the organisation.
The boss, for example, will want the party to be as cheap as possible. Religious groups will want a party that caters to their varying dietary needs. Generation Y workers typically want a party to be held at a club, while more mature staff will want it to be all over by 8pm. With all these demands, what’s a HR professional to do?
First and foremost, it is crucial for the HR planning team to get together and jot down what the key motivations for having an office party are in the first place. Taking note of what factors are important, and which ones are not, is the best way to ensure that the party does not go off-track.
In most companies, the annual office party is all about gathering everyone in one location to mingle and relax.
“While we have departmental town halls and social gatherings throughout the year, the annual party is an informal platform for people across the bank to connect, have fun, and get to know each other,” says Samantha Chia, Head of HR, Singapore, DBS.
For Sylvester Lau, Assistant HR Manager, Hoerbiger KT Asia, the yearly bash is a time when the organisation’s leaders can connect with their staff. “The annual event celebrates the success and efforts of all throughout the year,” he says. “It allows management to have a direct connection to the employees and recognise their contributions.”
If such aims (no matter how simple) are set, it is easier to to gauge if the party managed to meet objectives at the end.
Location, location, location
When asked what the most important aspect of the party is, the answer that various HR professionals gave, aside from meeting the set budget, was the venue.
“Obviously cost is important, but so is location,” says Sheela Gopal, HR manager, Southeast Asia and Taiwan, Pall Filtration. “Ideally, each year’s party should be at a different location as well.”
One unique location that companies can hold their party is on Sentosa Island.
“Besides the usual offerings of four and five-star hotels on the island with their ballrooms, restaurants and bars, this island offers very unique venue options that take guests to the outdoors,” says Steven Chung, Assistant Director, Sentosa Leisure Management. “From beach side pavilions to hilltop dining, we offer attractions all within touching distance that suit all ages, from family fun activities to outdoor adrenaline thrill rides.”
This makes it ideal for family-oriented office parties where employees’ family members are also invited, as there is entertainment for both the children and adults.
“Companies can even book the entire island just for themselves,” suggests Chung. “And no, it won’t cost millions.”
Another venue that companies can consider for their year-end bash is at MAX Atria @ Singapore EXPO. The event spaces there are transformed by natural light and lush garden features, making it an idyllic location. MAX Atria has over 8,000 sqm of space spanning two levels, and features 32 columnless meeting rooms that can be configured into a single, huge party area.
“Having opened only recently, we just started hosting the first dinner and banquet events,” says Aloysius Arlando, Chief Executive Officer, Singex Group.
This makes it a refreshing venue for companies to hold their parties as few have done it before. MAX Atria offers plenty of space and can accommodate banquets of up to 800 guests. Companies can benefit from having a bigger stage, dance floor, and more room set-up options. This is topped up with the excellent audio-visual equipment and free wireless internet that will make it easier to execute programmes for the night, Arlando says.
Companies that choose to hold their events there also need not worry about catering. “We have several in-house caterers that can allow dinners and evening drinks to be incorporated into functions. We have also partnered with the award-winning TungLok Group as MAX Atria’s resident Chinese banquet caterer.”
It’s a “theme” thing
To make the party fun, one thing that HR can do is to come up with a theme that will ensure that staff all turn up in zany outfits. This creates an opportunity for much laughter, as employees will get to see their colleagues and even their boss in a different light.
It can be even better if staff have to collaborate in teams to create their own outfits or perform an item, as this promotes a sense of camaraderie across the organisation. It also creates a great atmosphere leading up to the event as employees get excited planning and letting free their creativity.
“As a bank born and bred in Asia, our party themes always reflect our Asian identity,” shares Chia. “For example, last year’s theme was ‘Sensasian’ – a play on the words ‘Asian and ‘sensation’. Our colleagues put up performances celebrating our Asian presence.”
DBS also tries to incorporate different elements to their party each year to spice things up. “There was one year we had sand art and electric kites at the party. We also have fun competitions such as ‘Don’t Forget the Lyrics’- style games and lucky draws to keep the crowd excited.”
Lau also reminisced about some fun office parties he has attended in his career.
“In my past companies, we had an office party with a cowboy or rodeo theme. We also had ‘retro’, as well as a party with cocktails on a cruising yacht,” says Lau. “This year we have not decided on the theme and location yet, but we would like to venture further, perhaps even overseas.”
Chung is another one who has seen his fair share of well-received themed parties at Sentosa.
“I have seen countless of them,” he says. “A Pirate-themed party by the beach, a costumed party at the Glass House, and most popular of all, beach parties at one of the beach clubs in Tanjong and Siloso. The sky’s the limit when you have massive outdoor space.”
Keeping spirits up
Even with the most comprehensive planning, sometimes things just don’t go as planned. It is not uncommon for a party to get out of hand when there’s too much alcohol, and HR ought to have some precautionary measures for this possible outcome.
However, since it is a year-end party, employees are expecting to have fun and let loose, so it may not be a good idea for companies to be too restrictive. It would be ideal to send out an email beforehand outlining what is considered inappropriate behaviour, and to ensure that staff make considered transport arrangements after drinks.
According to Chung, the tip is not to withhold alcohol completely.
“I’m not sure if you want to be at a party when there’s not enough alcohol served,” says Chung. “Seriously though, the level-headed answer would be not to leave the tab open – it will kill you. Negotiate for a fixed open bar price. Spending on the right stuff means focusing on the things that matter.”
And after all, no one wants a party where staff say they would rather be working than spend another minute there. As most things go – balance is key.
Top party tips
• Begin with the end in mind – make sure the party meets objectives and budget.
• Get an official party planner to help out if the work is too much to handle.
• Decide on a fun theme and unique performances to make the event stand out
• Publicise it in the office to get staff excited.
• Make sure you plan for the unexpected – transport home for drinking staff is a must.
Top party themes
• Shanghai Night
• Black and white
• Hollywood glamour
• Fairy tale
• Cowboy/ Rodeo
• Venice Carnivale
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