According to the Challenger, Gray, & Christmas annual survey on holiday party plans, just 23 percent of companies are planning one this year, and three-quarters of those will be virtual events. (The survey, which was conducted online in October 2020, was based on the responses of 189 human resources representatives at companies of various sizes and industries across the country.) Other companies are having to cut back on employee bonuses and gifts or eliminate them altogether.
Traditionally, the holiday season provides business owners and team leaders with a key opportunity to articulate and show their employee appreciation with get-togethers, bonuses, or small gifts. Given the psychological stressors that have been ever-present since March, it’s critical for morale that you find a way to showcase your appreciation, even if it can’t be as robust as years’ past.
The following ideas can help you redefine your celebrations to make your team feel valued.
Have That Virtual Party—But Take it Up a Notch
To start, avoid hosting in-person gatherings unless they take place outdoors and with social distancing.
Even then, employees may feel pressured to and uncomfortable with attending. Fortunately, with some creativity, a virtual holiday celebration can still be a party no one wants to leave.
This year, many found that sharing a Thanksgiving meal online with loved ones was unexpectedly meaningful. You can add a twist to this by sending your employees food or supplies to make, eat and drink signature recipes, or “tasting boxes” full of goodies like wine, chocolate, cheese and holiday cookies.
While simply getting together and being merry is fun, some structure will keep people entertained and your virtual room from getting too rowdy. One Dallas-based consulting firm is doing its holiday party campfire style, complete with s’mores, assigned stories, and a live fire broadcast from the owner’s backyard. Headed by CEO Keith Alperin, Chicago's Helium Foot Software will do its annual New Year's luncheon with home office food deliveries and a challenge to come up with 2020 lyrics to Billy Joel’s "We Didn’t Start the Fire."
...Consider writing each employee a heartfelt, personalized card. Reiterate how thankful you are for their partnership and how grateful you are for their above-and-beyond actions this year.
You can also use the new remote setting as an opportunity to be more inclusive of all winter celebrations. For instance, don’t call your 2020 gathering a Christmas party even if you labeled your in-person events with this moniker before. Ask your employees to add touches from their own cultures, such as food or games.
It’s also important to be mindful of employees’ or colleagues’ preferences and obligations. Some may have their own personal reasons for declining your holiday invitation but may feel guilty doing so. Make an effort to ensure their absence won’t be interpreted as a lack of holiday cheer or team spirit by clearly communicating that your events are optional.
Select and Deliver the Right Gifts
Holiday gift etiquette in the workplace has always been complicated, but this year requires some additional considerations. First, most people have less money than usual these days, so a work culture in which employees are expected to purchase gifts for multiple people could be a hardship.
If your group prides itself on its generosity, think about pairing employees up Secret Santa-style and setting a maximum price per person (Secret Santa is when individuals draw names out of a hat, then buy a gift for whom they drew in secret. Normally, the gift-giver gives the gift to the recipient at an event, but this year, these one-on-one gifts can be sent online, mailed or delivered curbside).
What type of gifts are best? This is best determined by asking your group, but in pandemic times, gifts of food, coffee, self-care and entertainment are good bets. Pandemic care packages are helpful, just include some fun items with your hand sanitizer refills! Do keep in mind that shipping carriers are overloaded right now, so be prepared for delays when using the mail.
Perhaps your gift-giving this year has a philanthropic component. For example, MaryAnne Gilmartin, CEO of New York-based real estate development firm MAG Partners, is asking each employee to choose a charity so the company can donate gift funds in the person’s name.
Break the News About Bonuses Tactfully
This year has been brutal for businesses, and the usual money for bonuses might simply not be there. If this is the case in your company, it’s important to communicate the news as compassionately as you can. Employees may have an inkling already about the possibility of bonuses being skipped this year, so be forthright in how you communicate it and invite any questions they may have about your expectations.
One way to break this news is in a group meeting. Calling a one-on-one may make people nervous or suspicious. Be direct in sharing that no one will be receiving cash bonuses this year, and that it was a painful decision required by the reality of your business.
It can help to keep your tone apologetic and, where you can, be positive about the direction of the organization. Your employees are probably less concerned with their bonuses than having their jobs next year. Tell them about the aspects of your business in which you are confident, even in the face of continuing uncertainty.
In addition to the party and gift ideas above, consider writing each employee a heartfelt, personalized card. Reiterate how thankful you are for their partnership and how grateful you are for their above-and-beyond actions this year. These messages will go a long way toward easing bonus-related resentment.
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