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HR’s Guide to Holiday Celebrations

As we enter 2022, many employers are looking to celebrate the holiday season and new year with employees as they have prior to the pandemic.

For a successful team celebration, HR professionals will look for opportunities that foster comradery, ensure the safety of employees and limit employer liability while also embracing the season of celebrations. Read on for considerations, things to avoid and alternative options for engaging a remote workforce.

Planning Considerations

  • Covid Safety

    This year’s holiday celebrations carry an extra layer of safety precautions to limit the risk of infection. Be aware of local and state guidance with respect to vaccines and masks in the location and at the venue you plan to host. If nothing is required by state or local laws, consider if employees should be tested prior to the event, show proof of vaccination, sign attestations, or follow certain protocols around face covers and social distancing. If vaccines or testing are required for entry, remind employees to bring the proper documentation, as well as a reminder about company safety policies. Due to the pandemic, this might be a year to include just employees and not their families to lower potential exposure. Additionally, be sure to increase your measures around cleaning and offering sanitization stations. Inform employees in advance of your precautionary measures. This may help some people determine if they want to attend or pass this year.

  • Location

    Where will your holiday event be hosted? Try to select a location that’s convenient for most guests. From the perspective of limiting liability, consider having the party off-site. If the party takes place at a hotel or restaurant, workers have likely been trained in safe serving and you’re also less likely to be held responsible in the event something goes wrong.

  • Alcohol and Food

    If you opt to serve alcohol at the holiday party, ensure your company has a policy informing everyone that excessive drinking at company functions will not be tolerated. Further, all workplace policies at these types of events still apply. So, while alcohol consumption can lower inhibitions, everyone is still responsible for their behavior (and your rules around non-harassment, anti-bullying, safety, social media, etc.) Try to limit consumption using a strategy of drink tickets, closing the bar in advance of the end of the gathering, and/or limiting your open bar selection. Also, remind employees about the dangers of drinking and driving. When it comes to food, consider your menu! And if you plan to serve alcohol, there should always be food available. Reach out to employees in advance to understand any dietary restrictions so that you can ensure there is food available for everyone.

  • Transportation

    Employers can offer a variety of support when it comes to transportation. For example, instead of simply encouraging the use of taxis or ridesharing, offer to cover the cost. Employees will likely appreciate the gesture, and this will also help limit concerns about drinking and driving.

  • Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Issues

    While an employer may not always be able to prevent these problems altogether, there are steps that can be taken to minimize the risk.

    • Remind employees of your company’s sexual harassment and discrimination policies.
    • Ensure leadership is on the same page about behavior so that they can help set the tone and lead by example. Leaders should also be supportive of employees reporting incidents. In addition to showing care for employees, it also gives the employer the opportunity to address any inappropriate behavior and play a role in resolving issues.
    • Establish procedures in advance about how to handle any poor behavior that happens “on the spot.” Designate someone to keep an eye on things and know when to step in.
  • Unintentionally Upsetting Employees

    Be respectful of employees’ diverse observances. Respect and embrace these differences. Make your gathering a celebration for everyone. Pay attention to the date you select for the event to ensure it doesn’t overlap with religious celebrations for some. Take care that the party is not focused on any particular holiday. For example, not everyone observes Christmas, so avoid using the term “Christmas party” and ensure any decorations for the event are all-inclusive. You might opt for a winter theme of snowflakes.

Options for Engaging a Remote Workforce

Whether due to COVID-19 in general, the new Omicron variant, or a dispersed workforce, some teams will make the decision to celebrate remotely. Here are some ideas to engage your remote employees:

  • Video-conference celebration

    Zoom? Google Meet? Slack? You pick. For this holiday celebration, try to find a day and time that works for everyone. If your business allows, consider a mid-day Zoom celebration followed by closing early. Employees will appreciate the extra time in their day to spend on their personal lives – as this tends to be a busy time of year for most. As for the virtual celebration – consider ways to make the time together fun and engaging. Some employers have had “ugly sweater contests,” built gingerbread houses together (mail kits in advance), and have shared slide shows of photos, memes, and team memories. Another idea is to organize a secret gift exchange, where gifts are mailed in advance and opened over Zoom. Bring your own beverage (BYOB) to this event.

  • Give Back as a Team – Here’s a few options on how:

    • Seek out local non-profits to adopt a family in need for the holiday season. A lot of these organizations will provide a wish list for family members. Your team can rally together to make sure the family’s needs are well taken care of. If you have a larger team, consider supporting multiple families this year.
    • Set-up a food drive. Schedule and communicate a timeframe for employees to drop off their donations. Have fun with it by creating a contest among departments or teams – such as donating the most food as a team or setting a goal as a company of how many pounds of food you want to donate. Another way to make this exciting is for the company to sponsor a raffle and “charge” food donations to enter.
    • Look into virtual volunteering opportunities. There are organizations that work to organize virtual volunteer events that engage work teams. For example, they may send kits directly to volunteers' homes and then the team gathers virtually to prepare the kits (think face covers for donation).
  • Corporate Matching

    Do you have a corporate gift matching program? If so, now is a good time to remind employees of it. And if not, the holiday season is a good time to implement one. Under a corporate matching program, when employees give to qualified charities, the company matches up to a predetermined amount. This allows employees to make a greater impact with their money to organizations that are meaningful to them.

This time of year is full of celebrations. When making plans for your team, keep in mind what you can do to build morale, ensure the safety of all, limit employer liability and embrace the season of celebrations and giving.

Looking for more fresh thinking to embrace the shifts that businesses are facing during these extraordinary times? Check out this Employer Advisory Session: Strategic Planning to Combat Lack of Engagement, the Great Resignation and Mental Health Challenges.