“We regret to inform you that this year’s Christmas party has been cancelled.”
If you haven’t broken the news yet, you’ll need to soon. With Covid-19 cases on the rise, your company’s favorite holiday tradition probably isn’t in the cards this year.
There will be no secret Santas in 2020. No catered buffet, ugly sweater contest, or day-after office gossip. The awkward gift exchange of knee-high socks and novelty toilet paper is gone.
I’m not heartbroken by any of this. Cancelling a party is a small price to pay to keep my team safe.
What does depress me, however, are all the companies giving themselves a pass. Let’s not forget the whole point of the annual Christmas party: expressing gratitude, improving morale and building organizational chemistry.
Smart leaders should realize that those needs are, if anything, greater than they’ve ever been. This year, those needs must be met not on the dance floor or at the buffet, but under the tree.
Upgrade Your Holiday Gifts
Yes, you already give holiday gifts. But in the absence of your usual get-together, you need to go the extra mile.
Even in a tough economy, talented people have options. If they don’t feel appreciated, they may gift themselves a new job. And the cost of replacing a salaried employee is 30-50% of their salary — a whole lot more than even the most lavish gift.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Use these gifting tips to put something special in your team’s stockings this year:
1. Give Something Permanent
According to a friend of mine, John Ruhlin, author of Giftology and co-founder of a gift marketing agency, the top gifting mistake employers make is giving consumables. Food, alcohol, and live plants all make Ruhlin’s top 10 worst gifts list.
Instead, give gifts that are all the things holiday parties aren’t: lasting and useful at all times of the year. Goods like dinnerware and art are durable and memorable.
While cash might seem like a smart choice, it’s often used to feed a retirement fund or pay a nagging bill. In a year when large companies are making headlines for bonusing frontline workers, the better option is a thoughtful item.
2. Use Their Name, Not Yours
You wouldn’t give your spouse a gift with your name on it, would you? Don’t do it for your employees, either.
I can’t count the number of logo-covered tote bags, clothing and water bottles I’ve donated to thrift stores. But I still wear a jacket my wife had embroidered with my name a decade ago.
Don’t underestimate the value of personalization. On household gifts, such as glassware sets, go the extra mile by including names of children and spouses.
What if you’re already past the deadline for gift personalization? That’s OK. Would you rather get another fruit cake in December, or be surprised by an engraved heirloom in January?
3. Spend the Money
Most loyalty-building programs, including Christmas parties and gifts, are built around one question: “How much should we spend?”
So how much should you spend on holiday gifts this year? The easy calculation is to take the cost of your cancelled party and divide it among the employees who would have been invited.
The better answer is to buy for impact. Look for practical luxuries in the $100-$300 range: something your recipient would love to have, but wouldn’t want to buy for themselves. Gifting something useless to everybody builds loyalty with nobody.
Read that last sentence again. Don’t dilute your generosity by skimping on the gift.
4. Add a Handwritten Note
Not that long ago, business leaders penned notes and cards by hand. With so few of them doing so today, you can create a relational edge by breaking out the pen and paper.
More than 80 percent of American adults see handwritten notes as more thoughtful than any digital communication. Attach a personalized one to each and every gift you give.
Don’t delegate this to your assistant, even if your penmanship is terrible. You can find the time: Denise Pickett, President of Global Services at American Express, writes thousands of handwritten notes each year while watching TV or listening to music. Her all-time record for writing notes is 278 in one sitting.
Great Memories Are the Goal
Unlike your Christmas party, which your employees promptly forget about afterward, a gift continues to pay dividends.
Consider the entire experience, from packaging to presentation. They’ll remember it every time they — or their spouse, children or friends — use your gift.
This year is a little different, but the value of gifting is not. People need to know they’re valued. Without a party, what are you going to do to make your team feel special? Think hard, and choose well.