“It’s the most wonderful time of the year….”

Whether you are someone who lives for Christmas and all its joviality, or a subscriber to the ‘bah humbug’ mentality, we are now in the run up to Christmas and all the celebrations this brings. For many, this will include the ‘office Christmas party’, the chance to bring all employees together and to celebrate the successes of the year. Last year, Christmas parties had to be hosted virtually to comply with Covid-19 restrictions, and although Omicron has led to some organisations to reconsider or cancel their in-person events this year, others are proceeding to celebrate with their employees. But why are Christmas parties important, and are they even valued by staff?

Research suggests that the office Christmas party may not be at the top of employees’ wish list. According to one survey, nearly a quarter of respondents said they looked forward to the Christmas party, 40 per cent were ambivalent and 20 per cent said they hated the event. A US survey found that 36 per cent of employees described ‘holiday parties’ as entertaining, and 35 per cent responded negatively. The results also indicated that 28 per cent perceived the Christmas party to be obligatory.

Reasons given in these previous surveys for not wanting to attend the office-do have included, ‘not wanting to spend even more time with colleagues you may not like or would prefer not to spend out-of-office hours time with’, ‘disliking the venue or menu options the organisation has decided upon’, and ‘feeling pressured to drink’. If there are such ‘no ho ho’ views to the Christmas party, then why do organisations still go ahead with these events?

Several reasons have been offered for why the Christmas party should remain on the ‘Santa good list’. Christmas parties are often viewed as a way for organisations to say thank you to their employees for their hard work and contribution. It may be an outward way for organisational directors and managers to demonstrate values, showing staff appreciation. This may be even more important after the changes in work patterns, expectations and pressures that many have experienced throughout Covid-19.

In relation to this, Christmas gatherings can enhance organisational culture, and highlight the positive aspects of what organisations can provide for staff. The Christmas party is an important occasion for team bonding, especially in larger organisations where teams or functions could be ‘siloed’, and can be an opportunity for staff across teams to ‘catch-up’ socially, strengthen relationships, and improve cross collaborations and improved communication. For organisations hosting in-person events, it could be the first time in over a year that staff have come together. If new staff have joined the organisation, it will be their chance to ‘properly’ introduce themselves and experience that sense of ‘team’ in real life. Taking staff out of the office environment and changing their scenery will give them the break they need from screen time, potential stressors and work deadlines, and could help to motivate staff going forward.

However, as workforces become more inclusive and diverse, it is important that organisations consider the needs of their staff when organising a Christmas do. This can include issues such as:

  • Consultation — The word ‘party’ can be joyful for some or bring dread to others. Although there may not be a ‘one size fits all’, providing an opportunity for employee opinion may encourage higher attendance, or at least show that their voices have been heard.
  • Alcohol — Some staff may not drink for a variety of reasons. It is therefore important to have non-alcoholic options available, and not all events need to be centred around ‘drinking’.
  • Diet — Similarly, if food is being offered it is important to ensure that dietary needs, intolerances and allergies are considered.
  • Inclusivity — Not all religions or faiths celebrate Christmas, and so may wish not to attend a party related to this event. Is it time for organisations to recognise other faith celebrations throughout the year in some way, so all staff feel valued, and their faiths are respected?
  • Disability — Some employees may live with disabilities, and so when choosing a venue it is important to ask about access requirements and location (easy access to public transport, taxi access etc.).
  • Mental health — Evidence suggests that the pandemic may have exacerbated existing mental health conditions. Some employees may have been bereaved this year and may find the focus on the upcoming festivities daunting. Line managers need to be aware that extra support at this time may be more valuable to an employee then a festive social gathering.

The Christmas party is just one way in which an employer can highlight to staff that they are valued and appreciated. Organisations can risk spending a lot of money on such ‘perks’ and wellbeing benefits to attract, motivate and retain staff, without considering changing working practices that promote ‘good work’ behaviours and employee wellbeing.

There are other ways employers can show staff they are valued that may be less tokenistic and be more appreciated. This can include simple measures such as giving timely and balanced feedback that is both developmental and positive. Meaningful feedback can boost confidence and enhance employee performance. Offering opportunities for employee progression and development and ensure employees can use their skills can indicate to employees that their skills have been recognised and used within an organisation. Clear communication and adherence to standard procedures and policies such as regular catch-ups and well administered appraisals and development reviews shows staff that their needs are being met, and also provides them with an opportunity to raise concerns or discuss ideas. Employees want to know that their contributions to an organisation are recognised, and it doesn’t always have to be shown through seasonal celebrations.

In fact, although the Christmas party is the traditional time for organisations to say ‘thank you’ to their staff, kindness is a managerial competence that should be encouraged, admired and promoted, and ‘well done’ and ‘thank you’ are for all year round, and not just for Christmas.

Whatever you and your organisation decide to do this year, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a happy festive season and a healthy 2022, and I look forward blogging again in the New Year!

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.

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The Institute for Employment Studies is a centre for research and evidence-based consultancy in employment and human resource policy and practice.

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Institute for Employment Studies

Institute for Employment Studies

The Institute for Employment Studies is a centre for research and evidence-based consultancy in employment and human resource policy and practice.

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