What Do Your Employees Really Think About Holiday Parties? 70% Feel Pressured to Attend [Survey]

FinanceBuzz surveyed workers to find out how they feel about holiday work parties, holiday bonuses, and more.

People getting holiday gifts from a boss at the office
Updated May 13, 2024
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With the year coming to a close, employers are busy planning holiday parties to celebrate valued staff. But does that mean everyone is actually excited about them?

After sharing our stories of holiday parties gone wrong (and right), our team at FinanceBuzz wanted to find out how many people enjoy holiday parties, how well they convey values, and how common some Christmas party faux-pas are around the country. We surveyed 1,000 workers nationwide, asking about holiday party histories and expectations entering this holiday season.

In this article

Key findings

  • 70% of employees feel pressured to attend company holiday parties.
    • More than 1 in 3 have felt obligated to drink alcohol at a holiday party.
  • 63% say they have regrets about their holiday party conduct in the past.
  • Secret Santa exchanges are the most liked among employees of traditional employer-sponsored holiday activities, while group volunteering is the least.
  • Managers behaving badly:
    • Half of employees report a manager drinking too much at an EOY party.
    • 31% have seen a manager act inappropriately with staff.
  • End-of-year bonuses:
    • 52% are expecting a bonus this year.
    • 60% would prefer a bonus over a holiday party.
    • 67% would prefer a bonus over extra time off.

How people feel about company-sponsored holiday activities

Work-sponsored holiday events can take many forms, from the classic office party to the infamous ugly sweater contest to mandatory volunteering. But some events are more beloved (or at least tolerable) than others, according to employees.

A chart showing how people feel about various work-organized holiday events, including secret santa gift exchanges and mandatory volunteer work.

Most workers feel positive about work holiday parties, with the majority (61%) saying they either like or love them, while just 12% expressed a dislike or hatred for them. However, that’s not the most beloved holiday event, as more than two-thirds of workers (67%) think positively of Secret Santa-style gift exchanges.

Of the less-liked activities employees offer, 45% say they enjoy ugly sweater contests, and only 31% feel positive about mandatory volunteer activities. A higher percentage of workers, 38%, say they actively dislike or hate these types of events.

Employees feel pressured to do things at holiday parties

While most people have a generally positive opinion of work holiday parties, that does not mean they are comfortable with everything that happens there.

While holiday parties are well-intentioned, they aren’t for everyone. Whether it’s employees who tend to be more introverted or others who would rather not sacrifice family time around the holidays, 70% say they’ve felt pressured to attend a company-sponsored holiday party.

The pressure doesn’t stop once they are at the party either. More than half of people have felt pressured to participate in games (58%) and gift exchanges (66%) at work parties, and nearly 40% of all workers say they’ve felt obligated to drink alcohol at a holiday party when they did not want to. This number rises to more than 50% among Gen Z workers.

What people have regretted doing at a holiday party

People may feel uncomfortable about work holiday parties because of the increased potential to do something they may regret in the more relaxed, less professional atmosphere of a party.

Whether it’s the open bar or just feeling more comfortable outside of work, people can sometimes let their hair down a little too much at holiday parties. 63% of all workers surveyed said they have holiday-party regrets, chief among them feeling overserved.

The availability of alcohol can increase the odds of doing something embarrassing (or worse) and drinking too much at a holiday party is one of the two most common regrets reported by workers. Nearly one-third of employees, 31%, say they regret drinking too much at a work holiday party in the past, tied with speaking negatively about their workplace.

Beyond those regrets, more than a quarter of workers say they regret making inappropriate jokes (28%) or flirting with someone they work with (26%) at a work-sponsored holiday party. More than 15% say they have gotten into a verbal or physical confrontation at a work party.

What people have witnessed at holiday parties

Of course, other people are at these work parties, and people notice when their co-workers or bosses do inappropriate or embarrassing things at these events.

While managers should always set a good example, our respondents found the opposite tends to happen. Half of all employees (49%) have seen a manager drink too much at a holiday party, and 31% have witnessed a manager acting inappropriately with their staff.

On both ends of the “alcohol can enhance your feelings” spectrum, 35% say they’ve seen inappropriate romantic behavior between co-workers, while 33% have seen verbal altercations between co-workers. More than 1 in 8 have seen things go beyond yelling and become physical.

How many people are expecting a holiday bonus this year?

Parties are not the only way workplaces can reward employees for a job well done this time of year, as end-of-year bonuses tend to be given out around the holidays.

More than half of workers, 52%, expect to receive some kind of holiday bonus this year. Interestingly, that number drops to just a little more than one-third (34%) of people working remotely.

When asked to choose between a traditional work holiday party or canceling the party and getting a more significant holiday bonus, 60% of workers chose the bigger payday. Given the choice between a bonus and extra time off around the holidays, the gap was even wider, with two-thirds of workers choosing the money.

Expert insights

Shora Moteabbed, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Costello College of Business, Business Foundations
George Mason University

Are holiday parties/holiday socialization opportunities an effective way for business owners to show appreciation to their employees? Can they boost team morale?

Fun in the workplace can increase team belongingness and reduce turnover. Holiday parties/ holiday socialization opportunities could be examples of fun integration activities for employees. However, research shows that these events are most effective when employees perceive opportunities for socializing with their co-workers, especially their team members, and also observe that their managers are supportive. So, these holiday events should be planned specific to the organization/team’s culture and based on their needs.

Additionally, research has also shown that integration activities such as holiday parties can foster closer relationships among demographically similar co-workers. Still, such an effect was not observed for demographically dissimilar co-workers. Thus, the mere organizing of holiday parties/socialization opportunities may be less important than how we plan and organize these integration/socialization opportunities. These events should be organized in a way that employees attend because they are eager to, not because they believe they must.

When it comes to employee safety at company-sponsored holiday parties, what type of pre-planning is necessary? (i.e., limiting alcohol, expensing or organizing rideshares, and picking a central location)

I think safety protocols should be considered, and companies should follow their safety rules and their company’s culture in these events. However, if they want to foster positive relationships for all team members, they should also focus on other criteria for pre-planning. When organizations arrange these holiday events for their employees, creating an environment that fosters comfort, respect, and inclusion is crucial.

How can managers help to ensure that their remote workers still feel valued when in-person holiday activities aren’t an option?

Positive relationships at work are built gradually and through ongoing interactions. While social events and holiday parties could be one context for developing such relationships, other ways of encouraging non-work interactions for remote workers could also work. 

Managers can think of organizing virtual holiday events for their remote team, such as online holiday cooking/baking activities, fun holiday crafts, etc. Alternatively, routine fun activities such as weekly online hangouts or monthly online games could also engage their remote workers. 

Joseph Stasio, MBA

Associate Professor, Marketing
Merrimack College

Are holiday parties/holiday socialization opportunities an effective way for business owners to show appreciation to their employees? Can they boost team morale?

Yes, holiday parties are an effective way to show appreciation and boost morale. This venue allows for people to commiserate with each other in a non-business setting. It allows for the sharing of personal information, establishing an opportunity to bond.

They see each other in a different light, with no titles and authority relationships to hinder socialization. Of course, specific parameters must be established to act as a control mechanism for aberrant behavior. People are allowed to be human and let their hair down for fun.

When it comes to employee safety at company-sponsored holiday parties, what type of pre-planning is necessary? (i.e., limiting alcohol, expensing or organizing rideshares, and picking a central location)

The parameters cited above address this issue. Management must know their employees and host an appropriate gathering that reflects the basic nature of those people. Venues for white-collar events might very well be different than for blue-collar ones. In either case, establishing rules (time, alcohol, dress, etc.) ensures a successful celebration.

How can managers help to ensure that their remote workers still feel valued when in-person holiday activities aren’t an option?

Extra holiday gifts and bonuses fill the bill if remote workers cannot attend. The old saying, “It’s the thought that counts,” still holds true. These offerings say to these people that we value you and your contribution to our company, and we are thinking of you and miss your presence at our function.

Jeffrey C. Lolli, Ed.D., CHE

Professor, Sports, Event, Tourism, and Business Management
Widener University

Are holiday parties/holiday socialization opportunities an effective way for business owners to show appreciation to their employees? Can they boost team morale?

The short answer is yes! Social gatherings in the workplace can accomplish many things from a business and human capital perspective. Here are a few key goals/outcomes:

  • Employees can interact in a neutral environment, which allows them to get to know one another and often find common ground. This also allows for cross-departmental interactions and puts all employees on an equal playing field” (meaning one area is no more important than another).
  • Social gatherings celebrate diversity and foster a sense of inclusiveness and belonging. This is especially impactful in culturally diverse workgroups where, for example, various cultural foods are offered, etc.
  • They enforce company culture and core values, create opportunities for recognition, and create a sense of teamwork, bonding, and shared experiences.
  • Of course, this allows for recognition and appreciation. It can send a message that employees matter and that the company acknowledges that in this tangible and festive way. All can boost morale!

When it comes to employee safety at company-sponsored holiday parties, what type of pre-planning is necessary? (i.e., limiting alcohol, expensing or organizing rideshares, and picking a central location)

Employee safety should also be of paramount importance. Some things that can help:

  • If possible, hold it offsite (employees like a change of scenery and would appreciate a venue change)
  • Try to hold it as centrally located as possible. This works for smaller companies but may be problematic for larger, more geographically spread-out companies. In that case, you may need several smaller parties closer to the employee base.
  • More than likely, alcohol will be served at company-sponsored holiday parties. It is almost expected and adds to the festive atmosphere and experience. In most cases, employers are reluctant to limit the number of alcoholic drinks per employee; typically, it is an open bar. Companies can limit alcohol to beer and wine, which have lower ABVs than spirits.
  • Also, the company can organize and offer some form of group transportation to and from the venue.
  • Companies may also want to stop serving alcohol approximately an hour before the party ends.
  • Finally, if it is held at a professional event venue, the staff should be trained on responsible alcohol service and be able to notice heavy drinking and early signs of intoxication. In that case, they should communicate with key company contacts who can arrange for a safe mode of transportation home for the employee(s) of concern.

How can managers help to ensure that their remote workers still feel valued when in-person holiday activities aren’t an option?

This is a tough situation. Employees who work primarily remotely cannot be physically present at a company holiday party, whether for distance or other reasons, so viable alternatives need to be explored. One option is a Zoom (or some other platform) virtual party. A time or times could be established when employees get online to socialize, etc.

A festive signature drink could be recommended, and the recipe could be sent in advance to employees to make on their own if they so choose. To compensate for the fact that employees are not getting food and beverages, etc., the company could send those employees festive holiday food baskets and thank you cards. Some of the same outcomes can still be accomplished virtually as in person by still having a virtual real-time meeting, while not as enriching as in person.

Responses have been slightly edited for clarity and concision.

Gift yourself bigger savings this holiday season

Holiday parties aren’t the only way to show appreciation to others. From bonuses to presents, here are some ways to save more money.

For employees:

  • Make cash while you shop. Select credit cards feature cash back options at 1% or higher on eligible purchases.
  • Maximize your holiday budget. Turn your passions and interests into a holiday side hustle while earning some extra income to spend on presents.

For employers:

  • Manage your business expenses. A wide variety of 0% APR business credit cards offer premium perks and cash rewards – which is ideal when expensing high-ticket items for the office and your staff.


FinanceBuzz surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults in October 2023. Only those who indicated they had attended a work-sponsored holiday party in the past were asked questions relating to specific things they have done or seen at a work party. Only those who indicated they currently have a job were asked questions about bonuses.

Author Details

Josh Koebert

Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how personal finance overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.