Throw a great retirement party

When a valued employee, coworker, or friend retires, it’s a milestone event. A party can be a great way to reflect on a career and mark the transition to the next exciting phase of life. But now that the traditional gold watch has largely gone the way of the dodo, planning such an event can feel like a minefield. Here are some tips for creating a successful celebration.

When to throw a retirement party
When employees used to be with the same company for the majority of their career and retire at a particular age, it was simpler. Now there are so many questions – is it appropriate to throw a retirement party for someone who has been given an early package akin to a lay off – or conversely, that other employees were not offered? What about someone who has only been with the company for a year or two? Or someone who has gradually cut back on hours, or who might be back as a consultant in the future?

The answers to these questions will partly lie in your organization’s culture. But in thinking about the issue it’s best to go back to the original purpose of a retirement party: to celebrate and end a workingrelationship between a valued employee and his or her company, and to mark a major life transition.

Ask whether this is a major transition that both the guest of honour and others will want to recognize.

Personalize the event
It’s best to keep the personality of the guest of honour in mind. It may be that a smaller celebration with friends is more their style than a large banquet hall – and that’s just fine.

The further ahead you plan the party, the better. Time to do research can prove a goldmine of entertainment at the party. Some ideas for where to start: find out about the guest of honour’s first job or track down a “mystery guest” from his or her professional past to invite.

One easy way to develop a theme is to use the guest of honour’s interests as ideas for themes. Was he or she always out of the office on those perfect sailing days? Go for a boat theme. This also adds the perspective of looking ahead to the way the guest of honour will be spending his or her days, rather than just looking back.

Search out pictures and other paraphernalia from the guest of honour’s past to add interest to the venue. This also gives guests something to look at and talk about, which can be helpful for mixing friends, family, and coworkers. You can also create a quiz about the guest of honour and have attendees compete for the highest score.

Speeches, roasts, and other traditions
The traditional “roast,” where people poke fun at an individual’s quirks, can be dangerous territory. This kind of celebration works best for guests of honour with extroverted personalities who enjoy being the centre of attention – and is less appropriate for someone quieter or shy. It also is really only appropriate where people are leaving on a high note after a long time with the company and is generally done for higher-level managers and executives.

As long as the circumstances are appropriate, the key to a good roast is an excellent master of ceremonies – someone good at thinking on his or her feet, who will be able to encourage people to join in the “roasting” but who is also able to keep things moving and change the tone if it gets tense.

If you decide to go with the less-risky option and have speeches in honour of the retiree, select one or two individuals to speak. Give them plenty of advance notice and set a time limit. And unless it’s a surprise retirement party, don’t forget to let the guest of honour know he or she will have a chance to speak as well.

At a smaller, less formal party, another alternative is to simply go around the table and ask each person to share a memory of working with the guest of honour. To make this approach successful it’s also a good idea to give guests a little time to prepare.

Mementoes of the occasion
A retirement gift such as a watch or a pen set is still perfectly acceptable. But there are alternatives. You can create a scrapbook of office memories, including co-workers’ well wishes and memories. You can also videotape the event and give the guest of honour the tape.

The best memento however will be the sense of warmth and appreciation at the party, which is what makes all the preparations worthwhile.

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