Showing Employee Appreciation Without a Holiday Party

Hands holding wine glasses, making a celebratory toast.

Every HR professional knows the important role corporate holiday parties play in employee appreciation. For many companies, it's the event of the year and has the largest budget. It makes sense; employees have worked hard all year, and the holiday season provides an easy setting for companies to show gratitude and appreciation.

Many professionals believe corporate holiday parties play an essential role in creating a healthy, thriving environment for employees. But the question on everyone’s mind is,“How do you throw a successful party during a pandemic?” 

2020 has been challenging for everyone. This year more than most, employees need the morale boost holiday parties often provide. However, mask requirements, social distancing guidelines, and restrictions on the number of people allowed at an event severely limit the traditional corporate party structure. Despite all this, employees still need to know they are valued. You can cancel the party, but you cannot cancel employee appreciation. 

So, what do you do instead?

Think outside the box

Corporate holiday parties have been used for a long time to resolve many employee needs at once. They provide:

  • An opportunity for employees to socialize outside the office environment, thereby enhancing company culture and increasing morale
  • Closure to the year and relevant goals.
  • A venue to celebrate successes, as well as give and receive validation for hard work. 
  • Motivation to start the next year strong. 

These needs still need to be met, but since a large party is no longer an option, it’s time to get creative. While you’ll likely have to come up with multiple solutions to accomplish the same things a party does on its own, you may also discover something that works better than what you’ve done in the past. 

Schedule a brainstorming session with HR staff, company executives, and other stakeholders to see what you can do to fulfill these needs. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Give out personalized company swag kits, using employee’s name where possible.
  • Host parties for departments instead of the entire company (depending on state safety guidelines).
  • Share an interactive video message, presentation, or webpage recapping the year and establishing goals for next year.
  • Offer extra paid time-off for employees.
  • Design award icons employees can use as profile pictures on company communication tools. 
  • Utilize (or implement) employee recognition software.
  • Have managers present personalized gift cards to each employee based on their interests/hobbies.

Don’t be afraid to ask for employee input either. Your goal is to show appreciation to your employees, so why not ask them how to do it? Send a poll to your employees asking for their opinions. You can do this before your brainstorming session to get more ideas, or you can use the poll to narrow down the ideas your team discussed.

Use video conferencing sparingly

Some businesses are looking into hosting virtual parties using video conferencing platforms. There are a couple problems with this. First, since remote work has become the norm, video conferencing is now the virtual equivalent of going into the office. Therefore, hosting a party via video is the same as having the holiday party at your office. No one wants that. 

Second, it’s difficult for large groups of people to interact over video conferencing. People are more likely to passively watch than actively engage. If employees are not able to interact freely with each other, it makes it hard to develop feelings of belonging or unity — which greatly improve company culture and morale.

That’s not to say you can’t use video conferencing at all, but think carefully about what you choose to use it for. If your leadership team usually gives a speech or year-in-review presentation, video conferencing may be a useful tool. Or if your company gives annual awards, that can also be done over video.

Be strategic in your use of video conferencing for employee appreciation. Watching a series of talking heads does not do a lot to boost morale. Don’t just tell your employees that you’re grateful for their work. Look for opportunities to show them. 

Give your best effort

2020 brought all of us into uncharted territory in so many ways. Your employees know that. Your efforts to show employee appreciation without the traditional holiday party may be wildly successful or they may fail epically. The results aren’t as important as long as employees see that you’re trying to make the best of a terrible situation. 

No matter what, COVID-19 restrictions and safety guidelines are forcing us to change. But necessity is the mother of invention. This is an opportunity for HR professionals and businesses to innovate the ways they show employee appreciation. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You may be surprised at the solutions you discover.

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