After a year off from celebrating holiday festivities because of COVID-19, many workplaces are figuring out how to celebrate the season safely with the pandemic still working its way through our region. It is so important, when possible, to give employees a chance to connect and engage with one another and management. Studies show that employees who feel connected tend to stay in their jobs longer.

With that in mind, there are many workplace changes that must be considered for holiday celebrations this year:

  • The potential risks of gathering in one location when some team members may not be vaccinated or are high risk.
  • Employees who are still hesitant about gathering inside with others.
  • Remote workers or teams that are not close enough to attend an event.
  • Less-than-robust budgets because of the pandemic..
  • Space limitations. Many organizations gave up their offices for a remote work environment and might not have the funds to rent a place.

At myHR Partner, we put great emphasis on employee engagement. (We’re in the HR business, after all!) This year, we are flying in our remote staff from across the country to our Lehigh Valley office and having our annual company retreat during the day and a holiday party at night.

It is a big investment: hotels, flights, meals, paid time off from billable work. But the trade-off is priceless. I care deeply about my team. I truly look forward seeing them in person — some for the first time. I’m sure their co-workers will welcome seeing their colleagues faces in person as opposed to a 1×2 Zoom video.

The event is more than a party. It’s a chance to create relationships that will pay off in big ways.

  • Interpersonal relationships help build bonds that are important for trust and collaboration.
  • Management is able to express appreciation. It’s not about the money you spend, it’s about providing a genuine experience that makes an impact.
  • The retreat is an opportunity to learn, plan and evolve together.
  • It’s a way to heighten team spirit and engage with newer employees
  • It helps with retention. Employees stay longer when they connect to the people they work with.

I was curious about what other local companies are doing for their teams this year, and I thought it would be helpful to share. Here is a peek at the holiday plans for some companies in our region:

  • Liesel Gross, CEO of Lehigh County Authority, said they are having a “tailgate” lunch barbeque party when they feel the COVID numbers will be down, an inside/outside event. They are also conducting holiday charity drives that employees can participate in, plus a virtual party with games and some fun raffle items. What’s not to love about all of this?
  • Melanie and Juan Martinez owners, of Don Juan Mex Grill, are treating all of their employees and their families to an evening at Candylane at Hersheypark. It’s such a magical place during the holidays!
  • Denise Grothouse, president of Perfect Six, is focusing on teamwork and creating memories. Instead of a holiday party, they are going on a spring trip to learn fly fishing from Frontier Anglers while staying in the Smoky Mountains! How cool is that?
  • Jake Goldblum of Budge Industries in Lansdale, is taking his team to Green Valley Country Club where they will have a full bar, video games, karaoke and golf simulation games. Wow! He said they will test everyone for COVID before the event.

These are some lofty events. But celebrations do not need to be elaborate. They need to show you put in some thought and effort. Other opportunities can include:

  • Virtual events. There are a ton of amazing ideas. Google “fun virtual event ideas” or reach out to my e-mail and I’ll share some of my favorites.
  • Breakfast gathering. It’s a lower-key, money-saving alternative with many of the same benefits as an evening party.
  • An ice cream sundae or dessert bar that families can attend, too.
  • Games and prizes throughout the holiday season. The prizes don’t need to be big. Gift certificates, nice company merch, and so on work well.
  • Recognition events for employee contributions during a challenging year. Certificates can be printed from the internet to recognize individuals or teams and departments if you have a larger staff.

In this tight job market, the last thing a company should do is forget to show appreciation. That’s important all of the time — and especially during the holidays.

I hope these ideas are helpful. For those of you who work at companies who do not recognize employees in this way, feel free to leave a copy of my story in the right person’s inbox. The holiday celebration is a worthwhile investment that will impact your company’s morale and ultimately, its bottom line. It shouldn’t be trivialized.

This article, written by myHR Partner President & CEO Tina Hamilton, originally appeared in an article for the Morning Call. Read the full column here.