Charles Cotton: Festive celebrations can recognise employees for their hard work and value

Charles Cotton

Among those employers that responded to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD’s) 2018 Reward management survey, published in November 2018, 64% organised a Christmas office party or lunch for some or all staff, something that tends to be more widespread in the private sectors, and among small and medium-sized employers.

But why offer a party at all? In theory, it shows that the employer recognises the hard work of its people. Consequently, they should feel recognised and valued, which feeds through into higher engagement and performance. In addition, bringing people together across teams should help them to get to know one another better and reduce barriers.

That is the theory, but this will only happen in practice if employers get the design and implementation right. Also, it is no silver bullet. They need to get the basics of reward right, such as fair pay, for a Christmas party to make an impact.

This year, Covid-19 (Coronavirus) and the subsequent economic lockdown, has thrown a curve ball at hosting the annual Christmas shindig. For a start, with so many employers cutting jobs and pay, a lot of workplaces might not feel in the party mood. Against this backdrop, a seasonal party might be seen as an extravagance. However, those firms that cancel Christmas could open themselves up to the accusations of acting like Scrooge.

Of course, social distancing rules and collecting contact details of attendees means that organising and holding a physical event is going to be far more challenging for HR this year. In addition, many employees might not feel comfortable attending a Christmas get together in such circumstances.

It might also be worth getting soundings from employees for their views, through existing channels.

If holding a celebration does make sense, but a physical one does not, how about a virtual event? In smaller organisations, HR could help by ensuring that drink, food and other party paraphernalia are delivered straight to employees’ homes in time for the event. Where smaller scale lunches are feasible, it might make sense to devolve responsibility for them to teams and support people in creating their own year-end celebrations.

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However, parties can be held at other times of the year and there are other options for employers to thank staff for their efforts. These range from simple praise for a job well done to vouchers, bonuses and gifts. With parties, bonuses and gifts there may be tax implications so employers need to factor this into their decision making.

Charles Cotton is senior performance and reward adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)