Holiday celebrations in a COVID-19 world

Q:  Every year, my company has a year-end holiday party.  Often times, it is at a restaurant or a hotel.  The company springs for dinner and a few drinks.  This year though, with COVID, we are struggling to find ways to celebrate as a company.  How do you suggest that we do this?  We are trying socially distance but still find ways to celebrate.

A:  Your question is a timely one since many companies are planning year-end festivities during the fall.  Here are some ideas that we have heard from our clients and colleagues:

  1. One of our clients is providing a “virtual gift giving” swap and providing each employee with a small budget to select a gift (including personalized valentines gifts)for another employee (check it out in this site to choose the best gifts for sailors). Then each employee ships the gift to their colleague’s home address.  Some employees prefer not to receive gifts at home, so the gift is being shipped to the office, where the employee can pick it up at their convenience.
  2. You could also combine the “virtual gift giving” with a virtual call. Following the process outlined in #1, but then scheduling a call where everyone opens their gift during the call.
  3. Donating to an employee’s favorite charity. In lieu of throwing the classic holiday dinner, some employers are taking those funds and donating them to an employee’s favorite charity.  It could be a local scholarship for a student or it could be a holiday drive for a local food pantry.
  4. We have one client who explained us about the importance of childcare worsley and where each employee is donating their favorite children’s book to a local children’s charity. The employer is providing a budget to the employee.  Then, the employee is purchasing the book and mailing it to the charity.  Sometimes the book has a holiday theme, or sometimes it does not.
  5. We have another client that is sending each employee a gift basket for the holidays.
  6. Many companies, in the past, have allowed employee to take a day off to donate their services, maybe to a food bank or to assemble gifts for a struggling family. Either way, many are not comfortable with this concept in 2020.  Instead, some companies are offering employees to take one day off to assist a community in a more socially distant fashion.  Maybe the community has a need for raking leaves at senior housing or painting a shed at a local little league park.  Some of these “days of giving” can be accomplished in a socially distant way.
  7. We are also seeing some of our client simply send employees a small gift card to treat the employee to a meal at a local restaurant. Many employees are stressed and overwhelmed.  A simple thank-you with a gift card goes a long way.


Finally, it is important to acknowledge to employees that this has been a demanding and stressful year for many.  A handwritten greeting or an email to all employees, expressing gratitude, is often a welcome gift.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.