Celebrating the holidays at work 2022 style

November 26, 2022

The holiday season is officially off to the races, and workplaces around the country will be making plans to celebrate. Here are six tips to make the season happy, bright, inclusive and not litigious.

1. Decorating – Employees and customers enjoy seeing decorated workplaces, with trees, lights, wrapped boxes and wreaths. While some might contend that decorations like this overly promote Christmas — a Christian holiday, even the Supreme Court has said that images such as Santa Claus, reindeer, Santa’s sleigh, candy-striped poles, lights and a decorated tree are secular. While employers should create an inclusive workplace, secular holiday decorations like trees, wreaths, lights and presents bring joy. No reasonable person should be offended by these displays.

2. Office parties – Holiday parties at work should be scheduled well in advance, and should be optional. Most departments will host their own internal parties, and managers should remind employees that the Code of Conduct still applies during the office party. Colleagues need to be understanding if someone doesn’t want to participate in the event. If the department is ordering food, check with employees in advance for dietary restrictions like gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, etc. Part of being inclusive is making sure that everyone can enjoy the festivities.

3. After-Hour parties – Holiday parties after hours are where the problems usually occur. People drink a lot, get handsy and flirty, and then a HR investigation follows. To avoid this, make sure employees understand that the party is an extension of work and the same work rules apply. Allow employees to bring a guest. Hire a bartender whose job it is, in part, to identify anyone that has had too much to drink or is behaving inappropriately. Sometimes the problems don’t arise at the party -but at the after-party. This is another time to send a reminder about the concept of the extended workplace.

4. Employee gifts – Employees want three things: time off, money and recognition. Giving employees floating holidays and time off will help create a more inclusive environment. If feasible, allow employees to work on Christmas but take another day off in December if they want. This might not work for all offices (some employees might have nothing to do if work is closed) but where possible be flexible. Employees appreciate an unexpected half day or day off as well to help prepare for the holidays.

5. Being inclusive – Not everyone is in a festive mood this time of year, and in reality, many suffer extreme depression, loneliness, stress and anxiety. Employees are not one size fits all. Some are caring for aging parents. Some lost a loved one. Some are getting divorced and have stressful child custody issues. Others might be having financial stress. Some don’t celebrate any holiday. Be as flexible as possible this time of year. What you might value this time of year might not be what all your employees and colleagues want. For example, it might sound fun to do a White Elephant gift exchange, but that extra $25 gift might not be in the budget of all your employees, and others might simply just not have the time to buy another gift and wrap it. Especially for smaller departments, ask around what might be fun for the holidays and then do some of those things, but make activities voluntary. Be sensitive to what might be happening in the lives of employees, and offer resources such as the Employee Assistance Program to all employees.

6. Consider volunteering – One of the best feelings of joy comes from helping others. Organizing a half or full day of volunteering somewhere to help others would be a great team building experience.

In closing, “virtual” parties are so 2020 and 2021. While they might carry less “risk” than in person parties, it’s hard to imagine the intended joy or fun coming out of them. But, as with all of this, take the pulse of what employees prefer and go from there.