How British Businesses are Revamping the Holiday Party

Elmira TanatarovaFeatures
British Holiday Party

Editorial Credit: Vanessa Nunes, iStock

The holiday office party is dead - at least for now. Two-thirds of British office workers surveyed said they didn’t want a party due amidst the global pandemic, and 50% said that Christmas parties were a waste of time and money.

Just as the UK’s national lockdown lifted at the beginning of this month, new multi-tier regulations were put in place by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, leaving more than 55 million people in the country in the top two tiers of the toughest restrictions. While most businesses have been allowed to re-open, socialising is mostly discouraged, leaving traders who rely on face-to-face interaction back at square one.

So how does one bring in the winter spirit without plentiful booze, cheap decorations, and slightly lukewarm finger food? The Org spoke to three British companies about varying initiatives to aid their employees during the festive season amidst a time where it can feel difficult to celebrate.

Keep the party going

PromoVeritas, a London-based company that advises businesses on making sure their marketing campaigns are legally and ethically sound, is treating its team of 37 (and their partners, should they wish to join) to a number of different virtual activities beyond the usual holiday season bonus.

The evening will kick off with an online Cocktail Making Class. That day, the company has also arranged a delivery of alcohol, herbs, spices, lemon, snacks, and an 18-piece cocktail making kits to all staff. This will then be followed by a round of online Bingo with some prizes.

The following day, everyone will reconnect on Zoom to have a chat about the night before. After all, as CEO Jeremy Stern says, “Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a bit of gossip.”

Stern says that it’s important to put just as much effort into this year’s seasonal office get-togethers as you normally would - especially when so many teams have both gained and lost so much personnel.

“A third of the staff are actually new to the company, and I wanted to ensure that there was a chance to thank them, in both a verbal and a tangible way, and to bring us together to celebrate what we have achieved, and what we have helped our clients to come through," he says.

Although some companies have spoken about “Zoom fatigue,” Stern expresses that as much as many of us may feel burnt out by virtual office socialising, the holiday season evokes a yearning to celebrate in any way we can. It's important enough to the company that the initiatives have cost PromoVeritas about £3500 - almost £100 per employee.

“The general reaction to the idea has been good – especially when they received their hampers – full of bottles of booze,” he says, “A number have been talking about their outfits – so I think they are really up for it.”

A personal touch

A holiday company based in the dreamy countryside area of Warwickshire is placing an emphasis on personalised, locally sourced gifts for its staff this year. Winchombe Farm is a boutique glamping retreat based in the Stratford Upon Avon district, a region currently in ‘Tier 3’ under the UK’s lockdown restrictions, where indoor mixing is prohibited. Co-owner Jo Carroll explains that the business will be forced to close if this continues, which “means the difference between them having or not having jobs this Christmas.”

“I think that the team will be thrilled that we’ve tried to do something special, even if we can’t make any grand financial gestures,” she adds.

Being a small business of ten people, Carroll is unable to provide her staff with a winter bonus, but believes it’s vital to show employees they are appreciated in any ways possible.

“I spent 27 years working in the Civil Service,” she said. “Apart for an email from the Head of the Civil Service to wish you a very Christmas; and that was it! Taking a little bit of time and trouble to show your team how grateful you are for their contribution goes a long way to boost morale.”

Carroll has organised for personalised gifts to be sent to her team, along with “Christmas afternoon tea” in a box and beer from local brewery Hook Norton.

“This year I’ve put lots of thought into the team’s gifts in order to try and support other local businesses, like ourselves, that have been up against it this year,” she explains.

She’d normally source gifts from “off the shelf” items at a department store, but this year the team will receive calendars off a local animal artist and “Christmas cupcakes” from the local baker, who normally makes the cakes for Winchombe’s welcome baskets.

Winchombe - George's Getaway (credit Winchombe)

George's Getaway at Winchcombe Farms. Courtesy of Winchcombe.

Culture strategy

Equilibrium is a wealth management company that believes the festive season shouldn’t be the only time to reach out and spoil your staff.

Beyond a myriad of activities which the company has planned for its team — employees’ first quarter bonuses, a ‘Travelling Circus’ which will see senior leadership deliver gift boxes to all the team at home, festive treats, a Cook Along masterclass, a virtual cocktail making session, a giveaway, a raffle, and a virtual Secret Santa, just to name a few — Equilibrium has a set culture strategy in place.

Gaynor Rigby, the company’s managing partner who is responsible for its culture strategy, explains: “We have a packed schedule all year round of events, get-togethers (when we can!), competitions, challenges, games – things that we do for and with our team that are fun, collaborative, and allow us to get to know each other better. That last element is getting more and more important as our team grows, and this year in lockdown it’s become more valuable than ever to stay connected as a team and keep spirits up.”

While the holidays are a time where it’s easy to show your employees how much they mean to you, Rigby says that it’s important to take steps to ensure your company actively seeks to check in on employee wellbeing.

“I would say don’t confuse giving out free stuff with creating a workplace culture,” she says. “Sure, they go hand in hand, but you can’t fix a poor culture by handing out freebies and gifts, and in fact this can work against you if it doesn’t match up to how you act in other areas.”

Equilibrium - Gaynor Rigby (credit Equilibrium)

Gaynor Rigby, courtesy of Equilibrium.

She adds that “culture isn’t just about the fun stuff.” Beyond creating initiatives, Equilibrium has just launched an Employee Council, a group of 12 team members who will meet regularly with Rigby, the Head of Culture, and the Head of Training & Development “to discuss all things working at Equilibrium, and how they can potentially improve them.”

“We had our first meeting last week and had lots of appreciation from the attendees for how the company has handled lockdown. When we asked them what they would have done differently, no one could think of anything which was great to hear,” she adds.

Equilibrium also runs a Happiness Survey - a short set of questions aimed at checking in with people to see how they’re feeling right now - to regularly check in on employees’ wellbeing which Rigby says has proven to be “invaluable” at providing the company with data which will shape its strategy.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for how to spread joy in a business setting when a global pandemic which has caused so many lives is still very much in the picture. However, the holiday season has always been a time which has brought people of different creeds together - perhaps this year is no different.

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