By Genni Burkhart
In 2016, the Incisor published a seasonally relevant article titled "The 7 Essential Tips for a Successful Office Holiday Party."
Times have certainly changed since then, and hosting a holiday office party has become a daunting decision for human resources and office managers alike. However, we've realized that mental health and camaraderie with staff are invaluable, and our ability to thrive, not simply survive, depends on finding creative new ways to enjoy life's pleasures, celebrations, and time-honored traditions once again.
We'll review the latest advice from industry leaders and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to discover exactly how things have changed since our 2016 article and safely party like it's 2021.
In-Person or Virtual?
According to SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, safe, in-person office holiday parties are making a return in 2021, but with stipulations.
SHRM states one of the most significant reasons HR managers have returned to in-person events this year is a desire to bring coworkers together and celebrate overcoming all the challenges they've faced in 2021.
They give examples of real-world office managers planning to host their holiday parties either outdoors with masks provided and encouraged, or of others requiring all staff to be vaccinated, masked, and physically distanced. Some companies will leave the choice of attending their holiday office parties up to the employee, providing options for both in-person and virtual holiday celebrations, while many are keeping it strictly safe and only doing virtual parties, with added interactions such as virtual "Secret Santa" events or hosting virtual auctions to support charitable organizations and volunteer organizations of their employees choosing.
And some companies, citing the "work to live, not live to work" motto, are forgoing holiday celebrations altogether. Instead, they're giving staff additional paid time off to celebrate with their families, not coworkers. This comes from the universal realization throughout the pandemic that mental health is a priority, and time spent with loved ones is irreplaceable. Supporting the well-being of employees is increasingly seen as beneficial for the individual and business alike.
CDC Says Go Ahead and Party, Safely
The CDC has recognized that celebrating during the holiday season is an important tradition and that good times can safely be had this year by taking precautions to protect our health.
The general guidelines the CDC has put out regarding holiday parties apply to all manners of celebrations–office or family-related.
Some of these guidelines include:
- Protecting the youngest children not yet eligible for vaccination by encouraging anyone who will be around them to themselves be vaccinated.
- If not fully vaccinated, wear a properly fitting mask when in public indoor settings.
- For communities with high transmission rates, masks are advised in public settings for everyone regardless of vaccination status.
- If possible, head outdoor to celebrate, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated places.
- If you're sick or have symptoms, get tested for COVID-19, and don't attend or host holiday events until you're feeling better and have a negative test.
- Special considerations should be taken for people who have serious medical conditions and weak immune systems and are therefore not fully protected even if they are fully vaccinated and have received an additional dose. These people should continue to take all precautions recommended for unvaccinated people, including wearing a well-fitted mask until advised otherwise by their healthcare provider.
Parties Should Bring Us Together, Not Apart
According to a recent article in Forbes magazine, a Harris poll discovered that 54 percent of those surveyed who were fully vaccinated are considering the vaccination status of their family and friends as a factor in attending in-person holiday celebrations this year. Of those, 50 percent have reservations about attending holiday gatherings with others who are unvaccinated. As an employee's vaccine status is part of their private health information and protected as such, broaching the subject as pubic knowledge in the office is highly discouraged for a multitude of reasons. If this can become a divisive issue in your office, the HR department, or office manager, should weigh the benefits of avoiding the situation altogether, and plan for the least divisive way to promote camaraderie and inclusion when planning holiday office celebrations.
Holiday office parties are seen as a beneficial year-end way to recognize the hard work and achievements of the entire staff as a team. Perhaps more so this year, holiday office parties play a positive role in countering the daily isolation we have from one another, and a respite from separation that can negatively impact our mental health. Fortunately, in 2021 there are options to celebrating as your practice sees fit–be it in person, virtually, or on the sandy shores of some far-off tropical island–in making it through to the end, together.
Author: With over 11 years as a published journalist, editor, and writer Genni Burkhart's career has spanned politics, healthcare, law, business finance, and news. She resides on the western shores of the Puget Sound where she works as the Editor in Chief at DOCS Education out of Seattle, WA.