It’s October and visions of Pollyanna gift exchanges, potluck dinners, and candy canes---staples of the office holiday party---are dancing in my head! Recently, managers have questioned the viability of hosting office get togethers in the midst of a pandemic. Those inclined to move forward with party plans are curious about how to proceed responsibly.
The social dilemma
Many employees look forward to the holiday party because they can interact with the team in a relaxed, offsite setting. Employers view these events as opportunities to boost team morale, strengthen interpersonal relationships, show appreciation to the team, and reinforce and remind staff of the valuable contributions they make to the practice.
In 2020, more than ever, recognizing frontline and essential workers who risked their health and well-being to care for patients throughout the pandemic, as well as staff members who readily adapted to newly enacted COVID-inspired policies and protocols, and employees who persevered under stressful conditions, such as understaffed offices and demanding and critical clients, should be a priority for managers and owners.
Managers, however, are faced with a dilemma: how to organize an awesome event that conveys the practice’s appreciation of staff while protecting employees’ health and safety? Seemingly, this sounds like a difficult task, but managers are creative problem solvers and I have confidence that they will generate solutions that communicate appreciation, include a dash of fun, and safeguard the team.
Party in a different way
For inspiration, I explored the Internet for COVID-safe social gathering suggestions, which did not include in-restaurant dining with large groups, office buffets, and person-to-person team building exercises.
Virtual holiday party ideas are plentiful, as well as kind of awesome. Virtual does not have to mean boring. Popular Science (https://www.popsci.com/story/diy/virtual-party-guide/) offer basic pointers for setting the stage for a “lit” online event.
Now for the fun part…choosing from the options. For example, how about hosting a tasting tour featuring wine and cheese or beer and other treats? Each guest receives a box filled with paired beverages and foods and other party favors. When party time arrives, the group meets up on Zoom and an expert guide leads the group through the tasting.
Virtual games, especially those that are professionally planned and expertly executed, are another option. They often promote laughter among participants and help to make memories, promote bonding, and boost company morale. There are even variations of escape rooms available online. To sweeten the deal, send attendees a party box before game time arrives.
If the office is small and the practice prefers to host an in-person event, be sure to comply with COVID guidelines. Hosting a dinner outdoors with masks and proper social distancing can only work if the group does not exceed designated crowd sizes. If the plan is to host the event at the office, be sure that food is safely prepared---boxed lunches and prepared meals work best. If games are added, select ones that do not encourage person-to-person contact. Remember the hand sanitizer, require masks or other PPE, disinfect surfaces before, during, and after the event, limit restroom occupancy, and enforce social distancing---even if the crowd is together in the office daily!
MemberConnect has been buzzing about the office party and posters have shared their plans. Some have suggested outdoor dining under a tent, with patio heaters in a safe entertainment with safe and distanced entertainment: think karaoke or a magician. Another suggested abandoning the holiday party entirely and instead, celebrating “24 days of Christmas” in the office, which includes daily events and/or raffles. One hospital is hosting a contactless murder mystery dinner party for staff only.
Whatever route your office plans to travel this holiday season, it is clear that you will be entering unchartered territory. Past celebration may have been fun for and popular with staff, but this year, caution is key. If using a previous format, review it carefully to ensure that it is safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides comprehensive guidelines for holiday celebration. Go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html for information.
If the practice’s event is remote, check out this website for a list of virtual party games https://museumhack.com/virtual-christmas-party/
Can the annual office holiday party withstand the challenges presented by the pandemic? Hard to say, but with careful planning, innovation, and flexibility, there is a high probability that you and your team will have a memorable experience!
We all need a break!
By the time the holidays roll around, we will have spent approximately three-quarters of a year/nine months/272 days under the cloud of coronavirus and the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. We are mentally and physically exhausted! Managers are already seeing an uptick in the number of employees calling in sick because they need time off.
The holidays often bring stress and depression, even under non-pandemic conditions. To prevent a double whammy---workers stressed from onerous workloads, compassion fatigue and other issues, compounded by holiday stress---now is the time to have a heart-to-heart with staff. Encourage them to take time off to recharge their batteries. Reiterate the importance of “going off the grid” while out of the office, otherwise it will be difficult for them to return refreshed.
Research shows that when employers are quick to acknowledge and respond to employee stress, grief, and anxiety they can more effectively influence an employee’s rebound. If you suspect an employee needs a break, suggest they take time off, provide EAP information, and offer information about helplines. These can be lifesaving actions.
Tis the season to stay safe
There is no right or wrong way to get into the spirit of the season, although 2020 may force us to rethink traditions and find safer ways to keep the spirit alive. During this time, let’s continue to give of ourselves by showing compassion and concern for others and expressing gratitude to those who are important in our lives.
Be kind, stay safe, and make the most of what you have!
Michelle Gonzales-Bryant, CVPM