Small businesses have faced enormous challenges since March 2020. As we approach our second pandemic winter, many small business owners are likely wondering how – and whether – they can safely celebrate the holiday season with their staff this year.
In this post, we’ll outline key considerations for small business owners navigating holiday party planning and offer some ideas for activities that can bring teams together – both virtually and in person.
Tip 1: Follow CDC and OSHA COVID Safety Guidelines
You’ve no doubt paid close attention to OSHA and CDC safety guidelines as you’ve navigated the last 20 months or so to guide your decisions about in-person work, mask wearing, and vaccine mandates, so you may be aware that the CDC has also published guidelines specific to celebrating the holidays.
These guidelines don’t differ much from what the CDC recommends for general health and safety:
- Get vaccinated if you’re eligible.
- Wear masks if you’re inside with people not in your immediate household.
- Wear masks outside if you’re in a crowd.
- Wear masks around those who aren’t able to get vaccinated or who have compromised immune systems.
- Gathering outside is safer than gathering inside.
If your state has issued additional guidelines, be sure to take those into consideration when planning your holiday celebration.
While extremely important, these guidelines don’t offer much direction for business owners looking to plan a holiday event for their teams. To do that, you’ll need to consider a few more things.
Tip 2: Consider Your Team’s Unique Needs
The first big consideration for most businesses is weather: if you’re in a part of the country where gathering outdoors for a drink or meal still sounds pleasant, this might be a reasonably safe option for a holiday celebration.
Then again, there’s a saying in Norway that goes, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” If you’re in a colder part of the country and your team is willing and able to brave the elements, an outdoor celebration may still be an option.
But it’s also important to consider your individual team members’ risk level and comfort with in-person gatherings.
Before planning a celebration, consider sending an anonymous survey to gauge your team’s openness to gathering in person.
If even one person isn’t comfortable with an in-person event, it may be best to plan a virtual event. This helps ensure that whatever celebration you end up having makes everyone feel included and rewarded for their work.
Tip 3: Keep Risk Management Top of Mind
We’re all tired of the pandemic. Many business owners are eager to reward their employees for a year of hard work with a holiday celebration.
But it’s important to remember that, as an employer, you’re responsible for keeping your employees safe on the job. And in most contexts, a work-sponsored holiday party is considered “on the job.”
In normal years, this is where we’d remind employers about the liquor liability exposures that come with holiday parties. During a pandemic, though, the more pressing concern is whether an employee might catch COVID-19 – and if they did, what that would mean for the business.
Legally, it’s still unclear whether they might be able to make a workers’ compensation claim or sue for damages.
But in some ways, those considerations are beside the point: nobody wants their employees to get sick, at a holiday party or anywhere else. That would be a terrible way to end what has already been, for many, a difficult year.
That brings us to our next tip.
Tip 4: Embrace Digital Celebrations
While COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing the spread of the disease, breakthrough cases still happen. The safest celebration option is still one that minimizes in-person interaction – but it doesn’t have to be the all-too-familiar Zoom happy hour.
Here are some small business holiday party ideas that let everyone stay in the safety and comfort of their home offices:
- A team gift exchange where you draw names, mail presents, and open gifts on a video call
- A team meal where everyone gets their favorite lunch delivered (on the company’s dollar) and shares it via video call
- Time off that you encourage employees to use to support their favorite nonprofit
- A virtual escape room or hosted “game night”
- A matching financial donation to employees’ favorite organizations (maybe paired with a video call where people speak about their choices)
Minimize Risk to Maximize Fun this Holiday Season
While in-person holiday gatherings won’t be possible for some organizations, it’s still important to find ways to celebrate workers for all they’ve done in the past year. That might mean gathering digitally; it might mean simply telling your team how much you appreciate their work.
However you decide to celebrate this holiday season, keep in mind that the best way to celebrate the last year and position yourself for a successful 2022 is to do your best to ensure that every member of your team stays safe and healthy.