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HR’s Guide to Holiday Celebrations

As we enter 2023, many employers are looking to celebrate the holiday season and new year with employees as they did before the pandemic.

The holidays are a great time to reinforce your culture and engage your employees on a different level. With mental health concerns on the rise, getting employees out of the work environment to connect and have a good time can go a long way toward improving engagement and wellbeing. One study showed that a lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. The Centers for Disease Control further highlights how “people’s relations and interactions with family, friends, coworkers, and community members can have a major impact on their health and wellbeing.” These interactions have a direct effect on reducing the negative health and wellbeing impacts. Beyond the physical ramifications, social engagement leads to better health, higher income, increased employment, and purpose/meaning in life.

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

Planning Considerations

  • Be Mindful of Diverse Celebrations

    Be respectful of employees’ diverse observances. Respect and embrace these differences. Make the 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 to ensure that the party is focused on something other than 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, perhaps opting for a winter theme of snowflakes.

    Also, consider how company events may put an unknown burden on employees. Make sure the events are planned conscientiously and review the financial impact placed on employees. Not everyone will attend events or be excited about incentives and rewards but try to avoid alienating those who want to join yet are concerned about the financial burden.

    By being conscious of diverse life experiences across organizations and how they may affect economic wellbeing, employers can help employees feel included and supported in their workplace.

  • Location and Timing

    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 occurs at a hotel or restaurant, workers are likely trained in safe serving, and you're also less likely to be held responsible if something goes wrong.

    When will you have your event? With many employers still working remotely or hybrid, plan your event at a time that makes it most accessible for employees to attend. For example, if you're hosting near the office, hold the event on a day when most employees will be there anyway.

    The most engaged employees feel they’ve been asked and heard. Think about a quick pulse survey to gather celebration ideas from employees. This is also a great way to understand employees' diverse customs and the best way to incorporate those celebrations.

  • 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 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, food should always be 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, offer to cover the cost instead of simply encouraging the use of taxis or ridesharing. Employees will likely appreciate the gesture, which 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, below are steps to minimize the risk.

    • Remind employees of your company’s sexual harassment and discrimination policies.
    • Ensure leadership is on the same page about behavior to 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 allows the employer the opportunity to address any inappropriate behavior and play a role in resolving issues.
    • Establish procedures in advance to handle any poor behavior that happens “on the spot.” Designate someone to keep an eye on things and know when to step in.
  • Safety

    As employers are learning to live with the reality of COVID and flu season, like last year, this year’s holiday celebrations carry an extra layer of safety precautions to limit the risk of infection. If vaccines or testing are required for entry, remind employees to bring the proper documentation and a reminder about company safety policies. Increased cleaning and sanitization will also make cautious employees feel more comfortable attending. Inform employees in advance of your additional measures.

Options for Engaging a Remote Workforce

The pandemic has changed the way many companies work and play. As a result, some teams will decide to celebrate remotely. Here are some ideas to engage your remote employees:

  • Video-Conference Celebrations

    Zoom? Google Meet? Slack? You pick. For this holiday celebration, try to find a day and time that works for everyone. Consider a mid-day Zoom celebration followed by closing early if your business allows it. 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,” cocktail-making classes, wine tastings, or 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.

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

    • Seek 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 ensure the family’s needs are cared for. If you have a larger group, 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. Some organizations 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 an excellent time to remind employees of it. And if not, the holiday season is a good time to implement one. Under a corporate matching program, the company matches up to a predetermined amount when employees give to qualified charities. This allows employees to make a more significant impact on 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.

Are you looking to build a culture of appreciation year-round? Learn about 4 Ways to Build a Culture of Appreciation.