How to Have Holiday Celebrations in the COVID-19 Era

With social gatherings still upended by the pandemic, and many associations facing financial struggles, groups are turning to alternatives like Zoom parties and in-home contests to celebrate the holiday season with staff.

The pandemic has forced associations to change the way they do business, including the office holiday party, often a staple this time of year. With many associations still working from home, leaders have had to come up with creative alternatives that fit the financial and physical realities of a pandemic environment.

Because of COVID-19, the mood has shifted for organizations hard hit economically. “This year has been so, so tough,” said Dawn Taylor, president and CEO of Pinnacle Talent Acquisition. “It’s hard to be festive when you’re still worried about whether you’ll have a job or you’re scared to death when you walk outside, you may die.”

With that in mind, she said organizations that have had a financially difficult year are focusing on inexpensive festivities at year end that show they still care about employees. “They want to help people feel a bit more safe and secure around their job,” Taylor said. “The stress level, the anxiety, I hear from employees is just jaw-dropping. So it’s important for organizations to open up and offer that security, especially if there have been changes to the norm. Just say, ‘You didn’t get bonuses because we want all of you back here in 2021.’”

In addition to giving employees a sense of security, organizations are using alternatives to the traditional in-person holiday party. They are sending paper cards—something tangible for employees to receive—and hosting cozy virtual gatherings. “What I’ve seen is smaller, departmental virtual gatherings, as opposed to the big holiday festivities like you would do in person,” Taylor said.

Eileen Levitt, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CEO of the HR Team Inc., agreed that associations are getting creative to provide safe fun at low costs. “One client is doing a virtual cookie contest,” Levitt said, noting they’re still determining how to judge it given that they can’t taste the cookies virtually. “Another is pondering having an office decorating game, where they have different categories—most creative, most efficient, most done in the smallest space—and give small prizes.”

In addition, organizations are giving the gift of extra time off—either the half day or full day of Christmas Eve. Levitt said that type of gift generates good will at little or no cost, “as that’s typically not a high productivity day.” For organizations with “use it or lose it” leave, Levitt said allowing employees to carry over that leave, rather than lose it, is also an offering that’s not particularly costly for organizations with limited budgets.

For organizations that still have holiday party funds, new options have emerged that allow for virtual celebrations, including sending items to employees’ homes.

“Some are having a holiday luncheon virtually,” Levitt said. “There are services that you can hire that will send out food.” Levitt said she’s used an Uber Eats business account, Food Not Flowers, and Edible Arrangements to send food to employees, and there are lots of companies providing such services.

Other fun options for the holidays include a virtual cocktail making class, with all the ingredients sent in advance; sending small gifts, such as plush blankets or coffee mugs with the association’s logo, to employees; and even Secret Santa. Levitt said one of her clients is using for its game this year, which allows all the Secret Santa clues and gift giving to be done virtually.

While holiday celebrations will vary, most organization want to do something nice for their employees to end this very difficult year. “Most are being really flexible,” Levitt said. “They want to attract and retain the best people. They don’t want to be Scrooge at the end of the year.”

What is your association doing to celebrate the holidays, as well as its employees? Share in the comments.


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Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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