At this time of year, unheralded employees — typically, the folks in the HR department — are busy organizing the annual staff holiday party. In 2020, however, this task is more than challenging: it’s impossible. Or at least, it should be if they want to avoid steep penalties. For example, in November the hosts of an ill-advised house party in Mississauga, Ontario were assessed a whopping $47,000 in fines. Organizations that make the same egregious and avoidable mistake will not just have to dig deep into their pockets, but they’ll probably suffer reputation damage that could linger for years. Social media is like an unforgiving elephant that never forgets.
So yes, this does mean that the annual holiday party — at least the in-person kind that many people look forward to — is not going to happen this year. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that organizations don’t have to, and frankly shouldn’t, skip the festivities. On the contrary, 2020 has been so stressful and scary that anything that adds a little warmth and cheer is very welcome.
To that end, here are three alternatives to a holiday party in 2020 (and maybe in 2021…) that your employees will love:
1. Go Virtual
We’ve spent the last several months having virtual conferences for everything from job interviews to client consultations to status meetings (so many status meetings). Why not add a virtual holiday party to the line-up? Staff can don their ugliest of ugly Christmas sweaters, play games (e.g. online treasure hunt, trivia, etc.), win prizes, and more. Even better, you can schedule this during the day or early evening, so folks still have their evening to take care of other things or spend time with their families (or spend time away from their families if they’re going nuts in their home office).
2. Give the Gift of Time
Usually, by this time of year, employees are exhausted — but this year, their fatigue has risen to a whole new level. What’s more, if they live in most parts of Canada, they can’t look forward to a warm sunny getaway to recharge their batteries. Instead, they can dread a few more months of frigid temperatures and scraping two inches of ice off their windshield (and we won’t even discuss all of the shoveling). Now, there’s nothing that employers can do about the weather or border closures. But they can give their drained and wearied staff something that they’ll value so much that it may trigger tears: TIME. For instance, if the annual holiday party was typically a three-hour affair, employees can be given that time off to do some gift shopping, spend time with their kids, get in a few extra miles on the treadmill — or maybe just grab a Sherpa throw and go to sleep.
3. Sponsor a Charity
In lieu of a holiday party, ask employees to make a donation to a worthy charity, and offer to match funds (i.e. if employees collectively raise $750, then the organization will add $750 for a total donation of $1,500). For this to be uplifting and successful, employers should tell the story of the charitable organization, and share plenty of pictures. If doing this through the company website is too complicated (the IT folks may not be thrilled about adding and updating pages), then creating a private Facebook group is fast, easy and free.
The Bottom Line
This has been a tough year, and most people have been forced to seriously downgrade their standards of fun — heck, just being able to enter a grocery store without waiting in line is cause for celebration. But even though the annual in-person holiday party isn’t happening doesn’t mean that employers can’t spread some joy, smiles and laughter across their workforce, at a time when they’re in short supply and all sorely needed.