Written by Heidi Wadsworth | 9th December 2021

With the latest “Plan B” measures, including work from home guidance, coming into force, employers are faced with tough choices about whether this year’s much-anticipated office Christmas parties can go ahead.

We’re hearing from clients and businesses we work with that they have cancelled or changed their festivities this year in light of the guidance. Some may feel that it doesn’t feel right to follow work from home guidance but then gather in person for a celebration just before Christmas.

Employers and employees alike will be frustrated and disappointed if parties are cancelled, especially, as recent national headlines have reminded us, it was illegal to hold them this time last year.

Decisions really need to be made on a case-by-case basis, but here is advice from our team that may help.

If you hold an event, make it as Covid safe as possible

At the moment there is no legal restriction on parties, so if you’ve already planned your annual Christmas lunch, it could still go ahead. However, the decision is less around the law and more about how comfortable you and your teams feel about getting together,

As an employer you have a responsibility for the health and safety of your teams and you should therefore consult with them on any decisions that you make to avoid putting them in any situation where they might feel uncomfortable. Be sympathetic to those who feel vulnerable or who have vulnerable family members, and do not put pressure on anyone to attend.

Keep in mind that masks need to be worn inside shops and restaurants – so make sure your teams are aware they need to bring one beforehand.

You may not have a vaccination policy in place, but your venue of choice might. If you’re organising a team get-together at an external venue, speak with them in advance about any Covid requirements for entry.

If it would help everyone to feel more at ease, consider strongly recommending people take a lateral flow test on the morning of the do. Although employees may feel comfortable taking a personal risk and attending, as an employer, you should also consider the business risk – if everyone at the party is struck down with Covid there would be no one left to work.

Remember that rules for the party should still reflect the rules you have in the workplace. If you still insist on social distancing, lateral flow tests or a limited numbers of people being in the office, it would be a confusing message to throw that all out for a Christmas party with no rules.

Downsize your Christmas do

If your business is on the larger side, you might decide that for everyone to feel more comfortable, you should have smaller team lunches with people who already work together. That means people are not getting together outside of the ‘work bubble’ and your teams may be more inclined to attend.

Also, some people love a tipple, and some love a sit-down lunch, so you could go for a mix of several activities. This gives people the option to enjoy something that suits them and help break up your teams into more manageable groups.

Show appreciation

It’s been a serious year, and depending on the kind of business you have and what’s been happening in it throughout 2021, you may feel it’s not appropriate to go for full-on festive fun.

If you do decide to cancel this year’s festivities, it’s a good idea to still show appreciation to your team – much like last year – with hampers, gifts or perhaps promise of a party later next year.

It might be nice for one of the senior team to deliver a message of thanks in person or via a team video call. A handwritten, personalised Christmas card from team leaders to staff is a personal touch that can mean a lot – especially with a gift such as a voucher inside.

Take it back online

It’s likely that you’ve done an online get-together at least once before so why not do it again? This time, you will know what worked and what didn’t for a successful virtual staff party. Need some ideas? You could deliver party packs ahead of time, organise a virtual escape room, decorate gingerbread houses, or do a wine tasting. Let’s be honest, it’s not as good as a get-together in person, but staff will appreciate the effort.

Make a donation instead

Giving back to the community is a great way to bring people together and get in the Christmas spirit. Without placing too many demands on your staff, you could see if they would like to support a local cause – perhaps by filling shoeboxes for children’s charities or donating a toy to a giving scheme.

You may also feel it appropriate to make a charitable donation. Choose a cause that means something to your business, or perhaps one that has a connection to a member of your staff.

Where possible you should try to do something to acknowledge the hard work of your people this year, but that doesn’t have to be a big do. Things keep changing, and who knows what lies ahead. As long as you keep people in the loop, you are allowed to say that the celebrations will have to wait!