Traditions are an important part of any group – be it a family, club or business. And holiday programs in the workplace are the perfect time to build those traditions.
However, holiday celebrations for many companies have crossed a line from traditional to outdated – and that’s when they do more harm than good. It’s time to rethink holiday celebrations in order to build traditions that boost company culture and build connections between employees.
But what’s wrong with the long-held holiday programs and practices? And how can we rethink them?
Problems with holiday programs
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s look at some popular holiday traditions many workplaces share:
- End-of-year bonus
- Corporate gifts, and
- Company party sometime in December.
These traditional celebrations can be great, but each of them comes with some pitfalls if done carelessly.
Inequitable end-of-year bonuses
While done with the right intent, end-of-year bonuses can cause anger, dissent, or disappointment in a workforce. For one, bonuses are usually variable, meaning some employees may be satisfied with the amount they receive, but others may have expected more. At best, these bonuses adequately reward a small portion of your people; at worst, they communicate a lack of value to many employees.
Bonuses can also create unhealthy competition. Who can sell the most and get the biggest bonus? Why share a resource or give time to help someone when that might cost you bonus money? And for the people who may work behind the scenes or are more introverted, they may feel like they can’t stack up, no matter how much they contribute.
Another downside is the temporary compliance many employees feel. If they know their holiday bonus is coming, they’re going to work hard to get the maximum amount. But what happens once the bonus is given? These employees slip back into lower productivity and disengagement. Even worse, January has one of the worst turnover rates of any month because employees who are burned out stay to get their bonus and then quit.
Unsatisfactory corporate gifts
In this case, corporate gifts are items that the company chooses for the employees. Think of items like golf clubs, a fancy watch, gift cards to a random store or branded swag items. These types of gifts may be given with the right intentions, but they actually communicate an uncaring and unappreciative attitude to employees.
After getting an unwanted or impersonalized gift, employees are stuck in a tough spot. Do they complain and look ungrateful or demanding? Do they pretend to be happy with it? Either way, they’ll feel dissatisfied and undervalued with a gift that was supposed to make them happy.
Non-inclusive company parties
Company parties are not a bad idea, in and of themselves. But the traditional holiday party – a fancy get together sometime in December with alcohol, food and gift giving – presents some problems. Diversity and inclusion should be a vital consideration of your holiday programs, but the traditional party often doesn’t take that into account.
Some groups don’t eat pork, so watch out for holiday hams. Some groups don’t drink alcohol, so make sure there are other options. Some people may not be Christian, so focusing on Christmas may be offensive. And giving gifts to co-workers can simply be stressful for many people. Plus, there are other diverse holidays in and around December, so if a company holiday isn’t careful, it may interrupt an employee’s plans.
Rethink holiday celebrations
All of this doesn’t mean that companies should simply avoid celebrating the holiday season – what it does mean is that companies need to rethink their old traditions or start some new ones. These are some ideas for reworking holiday programs to really spread the joyful spirit to as many employees as possible.
Celebrate throughout the year
Don’t be stingy with holiday celebrations! While end-of-year programs are popular, and for good reason, don’t leave the other nine months out in the cold. There are plenty of national designations and international holidays to celebrate, too.
World Day of Social Justice on February 20th is a great opportunity to celebrate your diverse workforce and raise awareness. Employee Appreciation Day is the first Friday in March, and it’s the perfect time for a work celebration. World Health Day on April 7th is awesome for promoting and celebrating wellness programs. Make holiday programs that span the year and build traditions that maintain the excitement and comradery of the traditional holiday season.
Adjust for remote employees
Remote and hybrid work is here to stay, so many companies need to adjust their holiday programs. Find ways to include and recognize every employee at your company, no matter where they work.
A virtual holiday party, with the right preparation and activities, can be a smashing hit. Do things like ugly sweater contests, holiday desk decorating or an online secret gifting program to get everyone involved. These remote-friendly traditions will confirm that the company cares about and values all of their employees, no matter where.
Offer rewarding gifts, experiences
Nothing is worse than spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a company gift that most employees end up throwing out. The way to avoid that is by letting each employee choose their gift. Whether that means giving out points on an employee recognition platform or providing a comprehensive catalog of options, employees should get a say in what they receive.
For the younger generation, such as Millennials or Gen Z employees, experiences and respect are much more powerful than a tangible gift. So when planning holiday programs, think of ways to create an experience for your employees rather than just a one-off present or dinner. What can you do that employees will remember? What will build a stronger connection between employees and the company throughout the year?
Build a new holiday tradition
Holiday traditions can forge bonds, create memories and build feelings of loyalty and goodwill between employer and employee – if they’re handled correctly. Rethinking our traditional programs is a great start to creating holiday celebrations that check all the boxes, whether you’re celebrating Kwanzaa, Earth Day or Chinese New Year.