From working remotely to employee anxiety to economic impact, the past two years have been difficult on businesses. As we approach the end of this year, it may seem impractical or even questionable to celebrate the holidays at your company, but you may consider a different perspective.
We’re all looking for bright spots, for hope for the coming year and help remembering that we’re working toward something together. The holidays are traditionally a time with work parties, lunches and fun events like gift exchanges. While workplace gatherings may not be the same, ending the year with something fun and familiar can be a positive boost to company morale and help employees feel recognized and refreshed.
This guide will help companies make the holidays a special time for their employees while still following COVID-19 precautions. Provided are ideas and inspiration based on the size of your company for celebrating during COVID-19, as well as options for thoughtful ways to show your employees you care.
COVID-19 Holiday Celebration Basics
First, let’s cover a few basics. A company event requires planning even under normal circumstances, but planning a party during a global pandemic takes extra care and foresight. Though the holidays are quickly approaching, there is no need to stress. The following can help you get organized.
Starting now will help ensure you consider what’s best for your workplace. Whatever options you choose, this experience will likely be new for everyone. You’ll want to have extra time to get the details and logistics right. Plus, with shipping and fulfillment delays due to COVID-19, the extra lead time will help ensure that anything that needs to be mailed arrives in time.
Create a Committee
An event-planning committee provides multiple perspectives on the right tone to strike with any celebration. This is particularly important this year, as every organization has felt the impacts of COVID-19 differently. If you don’t already have an event committee, assemble a diverse group by including members from different teams, backgrounds and levels of leadership. This committee can determine what type of event or show of appreciation is right for your company and how best to communicate that to the rest of the organization.
Remember the “Why?”
A common refrain in the days of COVID-19 is, “Every day feels the same.” The holidays provide a break from that, which creates a perfect time to pause, step back and reflect. In that time, recognizing the team for the work they’ve done throughout the year can be good for culture and employee morale. It isn’t necessarily about how much you spend on the team in the form of an event or gift, but about how you show that you care and respect their contributions.
In a Workhuman report on the future of work, a sample of employees were asked, “What could managers be doing differently?” The top answer, selected by 31% of respondents, was that managers could show more appreciation. This data points to the value employees have for humanity in the workplace, prioritizing being acknowledged even above options such as career growth.
Cater Your Strategy Based on Your Organization’s Size
The resources available to an enterprise organization are substantially different than those of a small startup. Sending handwritten notes or planning an event for a team of 10 is a lot easier than customizing individual cards or orchestrating a gathering for an organization of 200.
You can maximize the effectiveness and fun of your holiday celebration by developing your plans based on the time and budget you have available, and by taking the limitations that come with your team’s size into account.
Holiday Celebrations for Micro Enterprises (Fewer Than 10 Employees)
Companies with 10 or fewer people have the benefit of flexibility. And depending on local regulations, there’s even the possibility of having an in-person event thanks to the ability to social distance. Whether you choose to gather in person or virtually, this number of attendees will allow you to customize the event to precisely what will work best for your team to create a more intimate, personalized experience.
Reach out: The Handwritten Thank-You
Heartfelt, handwritten holiday cards from the company leader to each team member can go a long way in making employees feel seen and appreciated. In each card, acknowledge that person’s individual contribution to the team and include as many personalized details as you can, whether they be about professional accomplishments this year or personal milestones.
Options for Celebrating the Team
A Socially Distanced Gathering
For teams based in the same location, a socially distanced cocktail hour, dinner or outdoor movie is a nice way to celebrate if local COVID-19 restrictions allow. Set up chairs at least six feet apart and serve individually wrapped snacks and beverages. Take time to focus on each team member and reconnect on a personal level. Check in on co-workers’ well-being, reminisce on the positives from the year and share your excitement for the year to come. Break the ice with lighthearted conversation and give each employee the floor to really be heard. You may learn things you never knew about your teammates, even if you’ve worked together for years.
With less than 10 team members, the traditional virtual get-together can run smoothly. Send a digital invite with the event information and build anticipation as if it were an exciting in-person event.
Welcome unique virtual backgrounds, festive attire or decorations, and a favorite beverage. Set an agenda that includes who will make speeches or share remarks. Define an end time and leave people wanting just a tiny bit more so no one feels like the event dragged on.
Be sure to be respectful of attendees’ time and keep the event light but organized. Consider planning out conversation topics to discuss like holiday plans, team achievements for the year or favorite childhood holiday memories.
Celebrations During COVID-19 for Small Organizations (Under 50 Employees)
For a company with upwards of 50 people, celebrating in person isn’t likely an option due to COVID-19 restrictions, but you can still make the experience special with thoughtful expressions of thanks and recognition.
Reach out: The Heartfelt Boost
A sincere message, whether personalized for each individual or addressed company-wide, acknowledging challenges through a difficult time can mean a lot at the end of a tough year. You never know how much your employees need to hear it, and how much it can give them a boost to finish the year strong and enter the new year with optimism.
Here are some examples of what to include:
- A sincere thank you for their dedication; include at least a couple specific accomplishments
- A favorite memory or two from the year
- A call-back to a funny event that occurred in this year
- A message of inspiration and a positive outlook for next year
- An invitation for employees to reach out with any questions or comments
Focus on the year both from a workplace point of view and a personal perspective. Remind your employees that you’ve been on this journey with them and will continue to be there for them. Keep it sincere and upbeat, refraining from any negatives or topics that may cause employees anxiety. This message should be purely positive and uplifting. A hand-written message for each employee is a nice touch if your team is small enough or if you have enough hands to help. Otherwise, a well-crafted email is still appropriate.
Options for Recognizing and Celebrating the Team
Celebrate Throughout the Month
Making the full month of December a time of fun and camaraderie is a great way to lighten the mood and lift everyone’s spirits. One way to do this is to choose a different theme each day or week, with employees sharing their responses with the rest of the company.
Themes could include:
- A photo that displays holiday spirit
- Favorite go-to holiday recipes
- Unique family traditions
- Holiday pet photos
- Over-the-top holiday sweaters or other attire
- Something baked that went really right or really wrong
- Dressing as a favorite holiday movie or book character
- Showing off holiday home decorations
- Recreating a holiday childhood photo
Leverage communication platforms such as Slack to keep it inclusive and social. This is a great way to make employees feel connected on a personal level.
Offer Holiday Perks
Providing added flexibility at a time when people are often busy and want to be with family shows that you care for your employees’ well-being. Options such as flexible half-days, a company-wide day off or the ability to leave early on Fridays in December can be a simple gift that provides outsized returns in appreciation from employees. The team can use this time to do last-minute Christmas shopping, attend holiday events with their kids or just relax at the end of a long year.
In a survey of 2,000 U.S. employees, respondents report being 42% more productive during work hours around holidays if their employer closes additional days rather than only for federal holidays. This could be due to the extra boost having time away from work often gives us. If you’re able, encourage employees to step away from work a little more this month and recuperate.
Celebrating the Holidays for Medium-Sized Enterprises (50 to 249 Employees)
For a company of this size, rather than trying to replicate a large holiday party in some virtual way, pivot toward a focus on appreciation. This can be done through strategic communication, thoughtful gestures and even small thank-you gifts.
Reach out: The Thoughtful Email
When communicating messages to larger companies, an efficient way to connect is with a well-organized, thoughtful email from leadership. In a report on employee recognition trends, 45% of workers say they haven’t been recognized by leadership in six months or more. This is concerning, given that the report also indicates that 85% of employees say recognition makes them feel more valued, and 89% state that receiving recognition for performance helps them be more engaged. While sending out a message to this number of employees would be a combined show of gratitude, it is still an opportunity to recognize the team as a whole and build a culture of recognition.
In your email, thank employees for their contributions, and call out as many company achievements as you can. This is a good opportunity to reflect on the company wins of the past year and build hope and excitement for next year. Be detailed and thoughtful in your messaging, and end in the spirit of looking ahead with optimism.
Options for Recognizing and Celebrating the Team
If your company has the budget available for a gift basket, this is a nice, tangible way to give thanks. Consider sweet or savory treats, a collection of local favorites, or a few custom swag items. A shirt or hat with the company name printed, or branded business essentials like notebooks, are a great way to give a gift while inspiring company unity. You could also offer gift baskets themed around self-care items like essential oils, a book of inspirational phrases or a fun craft.
If a gift basket for each employee is too costly, a low-cost gift card for coffee or gas still shows you care.
The gift of time is something everyone appreciates. If possible, thank your employees for their dedication this year with an additional PTO day in the new year. Highlight that the day is your company’s commitment to prioritizing the mental health of the team and that you encourage everyone’s self-care and work-life balance.
Company Donation to Charity
There is never a bad time to help those less fortunate, and few things connect people like coming together for the common good of the community. If your company has the budget to recognize the holidays, it may be nice to rally your team around a company donation to charity. Start by having employees choose a meaningful cause. Vote for the team favorite or split the donation among the top choices. Once selected, work with the organization on how your company can support their needs with goods or a financial donation on behalf of company employees.
Following the donation, work with the charity to have them share a note to your company about how the donation helped, which will make the gift even more meaningful to your team.
Holiday Party Alternatives for Large Companies (250+ Employees)
Large companies have unique considerations, and it makes having a social function difficult to execute virtually. Rather than trying to recreate a holiday party online, take a cue from companies that are doing award shows and product launches by having a fun, well-produced presentation from management or team leaders instead.
Leading up to the Event
Prior to the event, send out thoughtful, festive invitations with all of the logistics for the event. Include the standard time and date, but also what technology will be used and if it will be recorded for future access or not. Note that employees won’t need to have their cameras or microphones turned on, since they’ll only be watching the presentation. If budget allows, send your employees a small gift that they can open during the presentation. It could be a snack or beverage, branded apparel or something to make work easier, like an ergonomic wrist rest.
Content and Tips for the Event
Prior to the event start, play upbeat music and display photos with a countdown to the start time. When the presentation begins, leadership can share reflections on the past year and provide an inspiring, go-forward vision for next year. Showcase motivating team member stories and have specific team members talk about their wins. Mix in some fun slideshows and montages to remind people of the teammates they have, near or far.
This year is unique, but it can still end on a high note for your company. Your employees likely don’t expect a big, expensive show of appreciation, but they probably would like to see something.
The reason for the season is care, so no matter how big or small, show your sincere appreciation and give inspiration for the year to come. Remind your team that you’re on their side, that you’re all stronger together, and that the year ahead will be bright.