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HR’s Guide to Navigating the Holiday Season

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Tis the Season to be Jolly, Right? Survey says, “maybe.”

According to a recent survey of HR professionals across the country, only 65% plan to host an office holiday party this year, the lowest number since 2009. Nearly 27% reported that they never hold holiday parties.

What’s going on here? Clearly, many organizations are opting out of this time-honored tradition. But why? The truth of the matter is, only 36% of business professionals feel that holiday parties are fun, leaving 64% of your employee population feeling they are not fun. Another 35% gave holiday parties a “thumbs down” rating.

So what should a company do? As with so many workforce-related questions, the answer is: it depends. The good news is, it is possible to celebrate the season in ways that not only improve morale but also demonstrate appreciation and care for your employees.

Here are HR’s 6 recommendations and ideas to consider when planning for the holidays:

  1. Ask for Input

    Poll your employees and find out what they want to do. Ask for feedback on the venue, food, timing, etc. If they are not interested in a traditional party, discover what they’d prefer; you may be pleasantly surprised and inspired by their ideas.

  2. Celebrate Diversity

    The best intentions can backfire and impact employee morale in a big way. We are all human and sometimes we forget that by acknowledging or not acknowledging certain holidays, we can inadvertently exclude and even offend people. Establish a sense of respect and mindfulness. While you may think it’s perfectly acceptable to display nativity scenes, angels, crosses, etc., around the holidays, this may feel exclusive or offensive to others. Connect with your employees to determine how they would suggest having observances and holidays recognized.

  3. Decide: To Serve or Not to Serve

    Introducing alcohol to any event will, of course, increase your company’s liability. One way to avoid the issue entirely is to host a holiday brunch or lunch instead of an evening event. If that doesn’t work for your group and you choose to host an evening event, consider the following:

    • Communicate your company’s alcohol policy ahead of the event and outline expectations to employees upfront–excessive alcohol consumption and inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated.
    • Hire a professional bartender who can identify people who have had too much and take appropriate action.
    • Provide transportation for employees who are drinking.
    • If it’s an open bar, limit the hours and close it down at least an hour prior to the end of the party.
    • Serve food.
  4. Be Proactive in Your Efforts to Prevent Sexual or Other Types of Workplace Harassment

    People are typically more relaxed over the holidays. When that relaxation is paired with alcohol consumption, things can get out of hand. To prevent any unfortunate incidents, consider the following:

    • Communicate your company’s sexual harassment and discrimination policies in advance. Ensure employees understand what harassment is and remind them that the policies extend outside the office.
    • Establish procedures in advance for handling bad behavior.
    • Should an employee make a claim of harassment, take immediate action to investigate and resolve the issue.
  5. Encourage the Spirit of Giving

    Create ways for employees to give back during the season. There are always people in need and what better way to bring your employees together. Take an afternoon and:

    • Help out at your local food bank,
    • Coordinate a clothing or toy drive,
    • Do something good for another worthy organization in your community.
    • Make a nominal contribution to each of your employees’ charities of choice.
  6. Schedule Mindfully

    When planning dates for events, be sure to account for the broad range of holidays and observances that fall around this time of year. Also, be realistic and considerate of your workforce’s schedules and consider moving your signature party or event to a less hectic time of year. Some companies have a “winter formal” in January rather than December. Prices are lower, venues have more availability and your employees are less overwhelmed.

There are other ways to bring holiday cheer to your workplace:

  • Host a family party at your office. Close the office early one day, invite the kids and have Santa and his elves distribute gifts.
  • Host a variety of contests or events: cube or office decorations, tacky sweaters, secret Santa gift exchanges, etc. Encourage employees to be creative (but respectful and mindful of others). Have the CEO or another executive do the judging and award prizes.

The holiday season is a time for fun and celebration. While encouraging your employees to join in the celebrations, participation in all events should be optional. Remember that for many, the holidays can be hectic, stressful and evoke sadness. Consider everyone’s feelings and show respect for those who choose to opt-out.

From our workforce to yours: Happy Holidays!

Download the Infographic: HR’s Guide to Navigating the Holiday Season

For many, the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year. For those responsible for meeting compliance requirements and overseeing employee safety, the holidays can feel like an opportunity for unforeseen HR and benefits issues. Avoid unexpected crises by making sure you have a thoughtful plan in place, and check out the webinar: Season’s Greetings: How to Prepare Your Benefits & HR Responses for the Holidays.

Enjoy the holiday spirit this year, without a worry.