The holidays are one of the most stressful and busy times of the year for many organizations. The C-suite is concerned with ensuring all outstanding business operations and objectives are in place prior to the start of a new year, while employees are gearing up for days off and vacation time.
While everyone struggles to complete their tasks and deal with last-minute changes, recognition, engagement and appreciation can quickly fall to the wayside. And yet, this time of the year presents a unique opportunity to nurture your employee relationships and focus on morale so that all team members feel excited to come back to work once the holidays draw to a close.
If you’d like to keep your teams engaged during the holidays but are tired of traditional office parties or Secret Santa games, try a few of our following tips to mix things up and make your workplace a fun environment during a stressful time!
Take your office party outdoors
The holiday office party is typically held indoors towards the end of a workday, and most employees feel obligated to stay for the party or engage because they “have to.” For some companies, the traditional office party can be held at a restaurant or local venue to get employees out of the office, but you can also take the party outdoors!
Consider taking a trip to the mountains with your team for a day of skiing, or go for a group hike and end the day with a campfire where employees can drink hot chocolate and roast marshmallows!
Depending on the climate and weather, you could also host your party at a nearby park and have a barbecue where everyone contributes a dish, or take your teams on a local brewery tour.
Tip: If you’re not sure what everyone in your company would like to do, survey your teams to ask them where they’d like to have the holiday party take place.
Host a holiday scavenger hunt in your city
Instead of the traditional Secret Santa games, give your teams a break from their desks and let them explore the city where you’re located by hosting a city-wide scavenger hunt.
Divide your employees up into teams and provide them with a list of clues or riddles they have to solve that will lead them to different locations around your city to find secret prizes.
Encourage your teams to carpool or use public transit, and give everyone the day to complete the scavenger hunt. You may be surprised to see that this type of activity acts as a great team-building exercise, especially if you create teams of employees from different departments!
Tip: Make the prizes company focused, such as team lunches, a beer or coffee with the boss, office dog days, extra days off, a new piece of work technology, etc.
Have a secret holiday food taste testing
If you’d like to give your teams a good laugh and get everyone on board with a quirky activity, consider a secret holiday food taste testing.
Have a few employees volunteer to be taste testers, where they’ll try dishes other employees have made that reflect traditional holiday foods from around the world. But, switch it up by blindfolding the taste testers!
When the taste testers guess a dish or flavour correctly, they can collect points that can be ‘redeemed’ for an office-wide prize from a set of choices. For example, you could give the winning taste tester the option of letting everyone leave a few hours early on a Friday of their choosing, or hire a barista to come to the office for a day.
Tip: Ensure you’re aware of any allergies in your office before having employees participate in any food-related holiday activity.
Do a movie day at the office
Whether your workplace is business casual or startup chic, most employees would welcome the opportunity to dress down for a day at the office.
A great way to help people unwind and relax during a typically busy and stressful time of year is with a movie day at the office. Take a poll among your teams and ask them which three movies they’d love to watch, then let them wear their sweatpants or pyjamas to the office!
You can supply snacks or lunch (like popcorn or pizza) and set up an area of your office where employees can grab a pillow or comfortable chair and catch a flick or two. This is a simple yet fun way to get everyone together and take a breather from work!
Tip: Make the movie options related to your business. For example, if the majority of your teams are in Sales, consider giving movie options like Office Space and Jerry Maguire.
Take a spontaneous day off
What if your employees got home after a long, busy day at the office and received an email from their boss that they had the next day off to do whatever they wanted?
It sounds like a small gesture, but most people are swamped with personal tasks and errands during the holiday season that they have to spend hours doing after work and into the weekend. If they had one extra day to accomplish all of those chores, it could just make them more productive for the rest of the workweek!
Tip: Set up a quick meeting with your team managers and ask them when the best day for a spontaneous day off would be. This way, you’re not forcing employees to push back important tasks or crucial deadlines - they may end up having to work from home on that day off, which defeats the purpose!
Book a surprise activity or trip
Have you overheard your employees talking about a local activity or festival they want to go to over the holidays? Maybe there’s an event happening just outside your city that would be perfect for a day-trip?
Once you decide on a day trip or activity that all employees can participate in, send out an office-wide email a few days in advance, notifying teams of how to dress or what to bring on the day you plan on surprising them with the secret trip.
For instance, you could book a trip to a local maple syrup farm where your employees can bottle syrup or tap trees. Or, there may be a spa nearby that has group rates for massages or outdoor hot springs where everyone can go for the day to relax!
Tip: Plan this surprise trip or activity enough in advance that you can take advantage of group rates or discounts.
Prank your boss (nicely, of course!)
Even when employees love their bosses and appreciate their leaders, sometimes playing a fun practical joke on them can be a way for teams to loosen up and let out some steam!
Without going overboard, organizing a prank for your boss can be a simple way to get into the holiday spirit while having some good-natured fun!
Wrap your boss’s desk in wrapping paper, for example, or put their most-used office accessory in jello (like a stapler) to evoke a few good laughs without harming anyone.
Tip: Get a few employees together to work on the ‘prank’ and keep it a secret from the rest of your team; this way, fewer people can spoil the surprise!
Have a cookie contest
The holidays are always filled with delicious treats that employees will bring into the office to share with their team members. Why not make things fun with a cookie contest?
This is one of the more simple, cost-effective and fun ideas to implement, but can bring everyone together and may just make everyone laugh!
With your cookie contest, instruct everyone to bake their most inventive/creative holiday cookie - this could be anything from a uniquely flavoured shortbread to a funky twist on chocolate chip cookies. Have every employee then taste one another’s cookie and score each one based on taste and creativity.
The most inventive holiday cookie can win a prize of the employee’s choice!
Tip: Don’t forget to let your teams know that the prize, while the winner’s choice, must be inclusive of all team members. In other words, whatever prize they choose should involve all colleagues!
Give back with a community gift
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the holiday spirit and forget that there are those in your community in need of help.
Your teams can give back to your immediate community with a simple gift. But, in addition to something like a monetary donation or a day of volunteering, switch things up by creating an ‘essentials box.’
It works like this: ask each employee in your company to contribute one item they use every day, like deodorant, socks, reusable water bottles, etc. Add all of the items into a box, and deliver the essentials box to a local homeless shelter or charity. Not only does this provide people with items they need, but it can bring your own teams together to do something good for someone outside your organization.
Tip: Consider keeping the donation confidential. It’s the thought and act that counts, not the glory!
Celebrate a different culture
Most of us are used to traditional holiday parties that revolve around Christmas, and yet not everyone celebrates Christmas. It may be fun to get everyone together for food, drinks and some fun, but you don’t have to celebrate Christmas specifically. In fact, you can celebrate a different culture by hosting a party that celebrates a unique holiday!
For example, you could celebrate Hanukkah or Diwali, and ask employees to participate in a potluck where everyone makes a dish traditional to that holiday. This both supports the diverse range of cultures in your organization and allows other employees to get to know other cultures better.
Tip: Whatever celebration you hold for a holiday should be considerate of the culture which celebrates that holiday. So, if you’re going to host a celebration for Hanukkah, for instance, ask employees in your workplace who do celebrate this holiday for advice on how to honour it ethically and appropriately!