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Christmas party in Covid pandemic
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Seven considerations for your 2021 Christmas party

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The annual Christmas party is more than a glorified social event. It offers a whole host of benefits for both the organisation and its people. But how should businesses approach this year’s party in the shadow of the pandemic? And once all precautions are in place, how should they make the most of it?

8th Dec 2021
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Despite Sajid Javid’s reassurance to keep socialising as normal this Christmas, fears around an increase in Covid cases and the new Omicron variant is sending many businesses’ Christmas party plans into free fall. But there are things HR professionals can do to minimise the risk and reassure their teams, even if it is too late to change the venue. 

With many of us missing out on office socials for over two years, 2021’s Christmas party presents a valuable opportunity to remind staff of your company’s unique culture.

1. Let your team know they are heard

One of the most important management elements of the pandemic from an HR point of view has been unifying different team views and managing differing levels of anxiety. This needs to come into play again with this year’s Christmas party.

It is essential that businesses reassure their teams about the steps they are taking to make staff as comfortable as possible and, critically, they should make it clear that attendance is not compulsory.

The Christmas party is a chance to reward and thank employees for their work, and for those with underlying health conditions or who feel considerable anxiety about the current situation, being forced to attend seems wholly inappropriate. Reassure the team as a whole and provide a fuss-free way out.

2. Risk minimising ideas

If you can change or tweak your venue, consider using as large a space as possible or spreading the event across additional rooms. This will allow for better social distancing. 

Rather than doing one event for your entire team, consider whether you can split the party into a number of different events for different teams, and perhaps for teams that are already in regular contact with each other.

For venues that can’t be tweaked or changed, make sure you insist on implementing whatever available protective measures can be taken at this late stage. Can windows be opened to increase ventilation? Hand sanitising stations could be positioned throughout and mask wearing must be insisted upon for agency staff working on the door or in the venue.

If you can amend the catering, a sit down meal with well-spaced tables would be preferable to a serve-your-self buffet. You could also consider asking staff to show evidence of a negative lateral flow or PCR test 24 hours before the party. 

3. Handling pre-party sickness

Due to the current spread, and the range of attitudes that will be present in your team, it is essential to have a pre-party policy on sickness. Before Covid, it may have been socially excusable to be partying despite having a runny nose but things have changed considerably. 

Make clear what your policy on general sickness is in advance of the party. It is a good idea to ask staff to speak to their line manager if they are experiencing any symptoms of illness before the event to get a view on whether it would be appropriate or not to attend. Being obviously unwell at this year’s Christmas party will not only be extremely anti-social, it could also contribute to Covid’s spread. 

Once you have done all you can to minimise the risk and ensure employees feel comfortable, it is worth thinking beyond Covid and making sure your Christmas party reaps the rewards that it should. With many of us missing out on office socials for over two years, 2021’s Christmas party presents a valuable opportunity to remind staff of your company’s unique culture and why they are working for you.

4. This Christmas’ opportunity   

The annual Christmas party is a fantastic chance to reward your team and allow them to enjoy themselves together in a social setting. It is excellent for team morale – especially when it comes to building existing and new relationships and for team bonding.

For the majority of teams who have been spending large chunks of time working remotely, getting together in this way allows them to mix with colleagues they perhaps haven’t seen for months, or at least not in person.

Remote working has meant it has been incredibly hard for businesses to maintain their unique work culture (although for many without the crutch of a physical office it has been an opportunity to regroup). Coming together is a way to remind everyone of what the company is about and what it stands for. 

Try and avoid the Christmas party stereotype of endless drinking. It is very old hat and won’t sit well with those who don’t drink.

5. Mix business with pleasure

One way to make Christmas parties particularly useful is to mix in a bit of motivational business communication – especially if this is the first chance you have all been able to come together in person.

In the afternoon you could remind staff of what they have achieved over the past year and the ambitions for the next. Just make sure you keep the business update and socialising separate – there should be a very clear line so employees know they can properly kick back and relax. 

6. Make it personal and inclusive

Try and avoid the Christmas party stereotype of endless drinking. It is very old hat and won’t sit well with those who don’t drink. Some team members might not celebrate Christmas so consider how to accommodate them.

It should be a genuine treat for the huge variety of individuals that make up your team so try to cater for as many people as possible and do things which feel personal. Our CEO writes handwritten Christmas cards to every member of the team and it means we feel appreciated.

You could create bespoke hampers or ask line managers to buy personal gifts for team members. If you are forced to have a remote party, send the team something beforehand. If they are doing cocktail making classes, send all the ingredients and a beautiful glass to their home. Send them carefully selected wines for a wine tasting session. It isn’t about great expense, it is about team members feeling individually valued.

7. Forewarned is forearmed

Every HR professional worries about parties from the point of view of behaviour or the mixing of employees with alcohol. It is important to set clear boundaries in advance and make sure all employees know what your alcohol and drug policy is.

Remind everyone of the behaviour you expect before the Christmas party and put things in place to set yourself up for success. For example you could have a curfew to help ensure people don’t drink too much. 

And lastly, a progressive idea is to have a budget set aside for taxis home. This makes sense for women who may be travelling back late at night alone, but it is also a nice extra touch which will immediately communicate that you care. Or you could offer to pay for babysitting for staff who have children. Make the office Christmas party your own by thinking of creative details that will immediately elevate its positive impact on your team.

Interested in this topic? Read 'Four smart ways to boost employee morale this winter.'

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