The Office Christmas Party: One Last Chance to Get Engagement Right

“Yeah, our Christmas party is on Friday night in the conference rooms. In the conference rooms! They will bring food and drinks in. Nobody wants to attend so everyone is planning on going to the area, spend maybe a half-hour, and then get out.”

One of my commute companions told me that story the other day about his company’s “Christmas party.”

It reminded me of someone telling me last year that their company made the Christmas party MANDATORY. I said to him then that if you have to make it mandatory, a loud siren should go off in someone’s head. That should show one and all that there is a bigger problem besides some celebration.

Signals that management don’t seem to see

In this particular case (the MANDATORY party), the attendance was so low that they basically gave a party and no one showed up. Imagine for a second that you would invite people over to your home for a cookout and basically no one showed up. Would you not know that there just may be an issue with you or some other dynamic around you? That same scenario works for organizations as well.

When I read (or shall I say when I used to read) employee engagement studies, I would often wonder about the various workforce signals that beam back to management all the time, and these signals seem to just fly over their air space.

I contrast that with my daughter, who went to her company’s Christmas party this week. My daughter and all her friends went shopping for outfits for the party, and some even left work early to go home and get dressed so they could come back and celebrate. Basically, everyone showed up and no one left until the establishment advised them that it was time to close.

During my days at Martha Stewart Living, the Christmas party was off the charts. People would take the day off to rest up for the party that night. Some would rent hotel rooms to hang out without worrying about how to get home after they had had a few too many “adult beverages.”

Based on those scenarios, which one do you think has the most engaged workforce? There’s no need for surveys or focus groups. If you can’t pull them together for a year-end celebration, you have hit or are nearing rock bottom.

How holiday parties improve engagement

There are lots of companies that use the recession as an excuse for getting out of the event. This short-sightedness will cost you more than any amount that you thought you would have saved. That cost will be measured in engagement dollars. Matter of fact this celebration continue in spite of the recession.

Christmas parties are important in helping to improve employee engagement. It is vital to recognize the hard work of your employees for the year. Think of this as a big end of year THANK YOU. Employee engagement has never been as important as it is now, but it must go hand-in-hand with actions that show that you mean it.

There are so many examples showing that the poor quality of management and leadership in companies is at the heart of this engagement dilemma. The benefits to organizations of employee engagement cannot be understated. A truly engaged organization can expect to experience high levels of staff loyalty, retention, productivity, innovation and profitability — as well as low levels of absenteeism.

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Given the current economic climate, these signs cannot be ignored as they are stepping stones towards the future and long-term success of the organization.

Smart companies have found that the value in entertaining staff far outweighs the cost in terms of loyalty, networking, motivation, team spirit. And, they enjoy a halo effect of higher productivity after such a Christmas celebration.

Sharing in the successes of the year

This party atmosphere can also be further enhanced by giving out recognition awards during the night of thank yous. These awards could encourage increased future performance.

A company party at the holidays is an opportunity to all get together and share in what has been successful that year so you can engage people long-term. This should be a moment for the organization to shine. This moment should exemplify team spirit that encapsulates everyone’s efforts to get to a common goal.

So organizations, you get one last opportunity this year to drive engagement right.

I know; it is probably late for this year, but you now have 12 months to work on getting it right for next year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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