Star Interview

The 2020 Christmas Party conundrum


With all of the challenges workers have faced over the past year, offering reward and recognition in the festive season has never been so important…

As we enter December, one of the main questions for staff will be: Will I be getting a Christmas party? It’s not hard to see why, 2020 has been a challenging year. Remember, though it might seem like lifetimes have past, that individuals in your workforce have already dealt with multiple lockdowns, isolation, increased health and financial anxiety as well as cancelling of plans and enjoyable events.

It’s on this precarious landscape – research by mental health charity Mentalhealth.org found that 82% of workers believe that the pandemic has compounded the stress they’ve experienced this year – that wellbeing is arguably more important. A festive pick-me-up could be what they need but with lockdowns and rules around social gatherings still in play, HR needs to get creative about offering employees some much-needed Christmas cheer.

Group activities

TMP Mortgages is one such company that finds itself in need of a creative way to celebrate. The company’s offices in London and Corby closed due to COVID over six months ago, and workers haven’t been able to meet up in this time. However, Managing Director Kelly McCabe tells HR Grapevine that her solution was to bring the party to the people. "I want to help bring a sense of fun and social connection to my team during a time where no one can meet face-to-face. So, we’re ordering pizza kits, which provided a way for the team to connect with their colleagues remotely, as well as a fun activity with their families. The reaction so far is overwhelmingly positive – the team really appreciate it,” she says.

 

Since lockdown began, a host of businesses have sprung up offering services such as these, offering guided wine tasting, cheese tasting and other interactive experiences for those unable to meet in person. Laura Hay, Head of Group Pensions at Tesco, opted to send out ‘DIY party kits’ to her team, and then celebrate virtually over an all-team Zoom call. "As our team are currently working remotely, in lieu of our normal team celebration, we’ve organised to have kits sent out to each member of the team at home,” she says.

I want to help bring a sense of fun and social connection to my team during a time where no one can meet face-to-face

These so-called ‘care packages’ complementing interactive experiences for employees look set to be a popular option this festive season, Stephanie Lunn, Global People and Culture Director at Guinness World Records notes that simply having a unique and engaging chance for the company to get together and celebrate digitally can be a big boost to wellbeing. The firm recently celebrated the launch of a new publication and asked all employees across the globe to take part in a digital ‘record breaking’ experience. “It was huge fun,” she continues. “We got all of our international offices together on an event call and did challenges like balancing a stack of books on our heads and throwing paper aeroplanes. There was huge participation – even our colleagues in Japan stayed up to take part in these events. It was great to see people who otherwise wouldn’t interact getting to know each other.”

There’s only so many quizzes that employees can do – I think everyone’s a bit tired of it now

 

Waiting till 2021

Whilst Lunn, Hay and many other leaders across the country are basing their celebrations on the utilisation of tools such as Zoom, Teams and Slack to host digital parties and get-togethers, UK-based ice cream brand Oppo Brothers' Founder and Director, Harry Thuillier, says that he believes these digital meets are wearing thin. “There’s only so many quizzes that employees can do – I think everyone’s a bit tired of it now,” he notes.

The company purchased a digital events package earlier in the year and, whilst he says that employees enjoyed it, he thinks such celebrations leave a lot to be desired. For Oppo Brothers, after careful consideration Thuillier decided that the company was still going to host an extravagant Christmas get-together, but concluded that it will now take place in 2021. “We’ve resolved to just throw the party as we would have, but do it in, say, March. I think the nicest thing for everyone is having something to look forward to. That’s kind of the best part, so our team know that the Christmas party is coming, but maybe not in the most traditional of ways,” he says.

Ultimately, taking into account the varied ideas shared, it’s evident that there is no one-size -fits-all solution to seasonal recognition. Whilst some teams may well feel that a digital Christmas party, complete with posted goodies or a guided experience via webcam exceeds expectations, others may well opt for Thuillier’s approach, and would prefer something akin to a traditional party to look forward to. However, reward and recognition is given, the important thing is that employees are aware that the company is thankful for their investment, and as Thuillier states, this isn’t something just to be discussed in December. “I think have a culture of letting people know that we appreciate them. We want them to know that all year round. Why do we have to wait until Christmas to let them know?” he concludes.


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