Those who know me already know that I am not a huge fan of office Christmas parties. Call me a Grinch, but I think they represent an HR and cultural minefield that leaves firms exposed to all sorts of trouble. This year, my views on Christmas parties are something of an irrelevance as it is pretty clear that there aren’t going to be any. Too much uncertainty to fix a date, and even if we are back in the saddle nobody is going to want to do the conga or take turns at the vodka luge as has happened in days of yore. Best cancel it now I say. There are few things worse than a bad Christmas party that has been cobbled together at the last minute. And there’s no point in doing the hokey-cokey with a mask on.
We have to recognise that the absence of the party leaves a gaping hole in the cultural landscape of any firm. When done well Christmas parties represent an important way to say thank you to staff across the firm. Most firms recognise that this year, of all years, it is important to give their people a boost – especially as some of them have managed to continue to work in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. And if I’m reading the runes correctly, Christmas bonuses in most firms are going to be paltry-to-non-existent this year.
So. What to do instead? Now is the time to be thinking about this, because anything thoughtful is going to take weeks to organise. In my view, the worst thing a firm can do is to bung the equivalent cost of the party onto people’s Christmas pay packets. There needs to be a gift, and there needs to be thought involved. Vague gestures of thanks can backfire badly.
The key, I think, is to make it personal. As a young man starting out in the world of PR, my then boss used to give every person in the agency a book that he had chosen himself inside which he wrote a note. Twenty years on, I can still remember every single book he gave me. The cost of this gesture was tiny, but its effect was huge. It really is the thought that counts.