After a tumultuous, unprecedented year, many offices will have been looking forward to the annual Christmas party as a relaxing close to the year. However, due to social-distancing measures and lockdown restrictions, an in-person party is no longer viable for most businesses.

Speaking to Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, HRreview asks what alternatives can be used instead of the in-person Christmas party.

 1. Having a Virtual Party

For many firms, a virtual party will be the go-to solution for the lack of in-person Christmas party. It is accessible, socially-distanced and an effective way of bringing the team together. However, Kate discusses things employers should be mindful of:

This is arguably the safest and cheapest way to conduct a party during coronavirus. Staff can find creative ways to have fun virtually and no health and safety risks are likely. However, there are some important things that employers should be aware of.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for employers to keep their employees’ wellbeing in mind, much more than ever before. This is why, even with something that can be considered a ‘treat’ for employees, staff members who have struggled mentally with work-related stresses or who are working carers may not want to partake in a Christmas party this year however well-intentioned it may be on the employer’s part. It is therefore advisable that remote parties should be optional and not constrained to a certain timeframe in which staff must be in attendance – they should be able to join and leave as they please.

Additionally, Kate emphasises that employers should be mindful of who is attending.

Those who are attending should be carefully considered. This is so no one is excluded from any activities during the party, for example, if an employee does not drink alcohol and a virtual wine tasting activity makes up the bulk of the event, this person would not be able to contribute to the fun and may feel left out. Therefore, it may be better for employers to ensure that there is a wide range of activities available that cater to all individuals in attendance.

That said, when attendees, and potential attendees, have been established and the activities have been finalised, details could be sent to them by email. Employers may also want to use that email to set out their rules on attendance – it could highlight that the same conduct is expected of them at a remote party as it would be at an in-person event. Employers may also want to consider outlining that the same disciplinary procedures would apply in a situation where an employee commits a form of misconduct during the event. Similarly, employees should be made aware that the same grievance procedure also applies.

2. Early finish day 

Kate outlines the benefits of offering staff a well-needed break:

Not a party in of itself, but it allows staff to spend the rest of their day how they please – whether it’s to relax, catch-up on some Christmas shopping, or spend it with family.

Allowing staff to finish early could also act as a compromise for either having to be content with a smaller Christmas party than normal or for no party at all. It would ensure that staff morale remains high and employers ultimately retain their remaining workforce after potentially having to put staff on long periods of furlough and/or making others redundant.

Employers must be careful with this though, because if staff that are working within offices are allowed to finish early at the same time, it may cause congestion at exits – whether staircases or elevators. Therefore, it is advisable that, if an early finish is a route they go down, employers stagger this as far as possible by allowing only a handful of staff to finish at the same time per day. This way, social distancing measures can be adhered to.

3. Giving staff gifts

Giving gifts could be a way of showing staff your appreciation for the work they have put in.

Employers may want to give their employees a gift where they choose not to throw them a virtual party or give them time off – similar to secret Santa! In this case, employers should be careful not to appear as favouring one employee to the other. It is therefore advisable that they either give employees the same gifts – e.g. a gift card or a bottle of wine (keeping in mind that not all staff will be alcohol drinkers, a non-alcoholic wine option should be available) – or other gifts of the same value.

4. No party at all

The reality of this year is that it may not be at all practicable to allow for any celebration, or perhaps it is that employers cannot prioritise a party at this time over their workload. Whatever the reason may be, staff will likely be understanding if a party does not go ahead. It also means that employers will not be liable for the HR issues that may occur during a Christmas party, such as harassment. However, employers should be advised that staff morale may be significantly reduced as a result.

How have your business responded to the annual Christmas party? – Have you cancelled it, postponed it or shifted it online?