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What Do Workplace Holiday Celebrations Look Like in 2020?

The traditional way of celebrating the holidays in the workplace has been upended with a resurgence of coronavirus infections and deaths nationwide, but employers can take action to deliver some cheer.

new years eve 1905142 640Some companies have adjusted their paid-time-off policies to unlimited this year to ensure their employees can spend time away from work amid the pandemic, Society For Human Resource Management reports. For Arlington, Texas-based Thrive Internet Marketing, that means allowing employees to take time off whenever they need to and for whatever reason.

"Everyone is entitled to take personal leave when the appropriate circumstances arise," says Cindy Deuser, HR manager. "We are giving everyone autonomy, and the thing about autonomy is that since you are given that trust, employees use it wisely and appropriately."

This year has also meant employees working more hour per day while working from home, a Harvard Business School study finds. By reviewing emails and meetings of 3.1 million people in 16 cities globally, it was determined that the average workday went up by 8.2%, or an average of 48.5 minutes daily, in the early weeks of the pandemic.

“There is a general sense that we never stop being in front of Zoom or interacting,” says Raffaella Sadun, professor of business administration in the HBS Strategy Unit. “It’s very taxing, to be honest.”

At Clear Capital in Reno, Nevada, chief people officer Sheila Ryan says they are training their managers to recognize burnout and to quickly offer impacted employees time off, Society For Human Resource Management reports. “We're emphasizing that while they may not be able to go to an exotic location, there is value in taking time to be off the clock," Ryan says.

Some companies are finding creative ways to replace in-person gift giving and parties, Society For Human Resource Management notes. With live gatherings not feasible or safe now, some employers are spending more on gifts. Chicago-based iPromo, a promotional products firm, reports a huge increase in corporate holiday gift orders for expensive items, such as $300 Apple AirPods and $100 self-cleaning water bottles.

“Often, a high-end gift is actually less expensive, since a holiday party includes the cost of food, room rental, travel and entertainment,” says Leo Friedman, iPromo CEO. “While the social aspect will be missed, employees will appreciate the gesture, especially during such a tough year. Employees may appreciate a high-value gift that they will use often … [over] a once-a-year party."

Companies also can host virtual happy hours or virtual dinner parties. Online culinary school, Rouxbe, provides users access to hundreds of recipes. Employers can mail out ingredients or a grocery gift card and then set up a time where employees can meet on Zoom to prepare their meals together. “The venue and food cost alone [for an in-person party] certainly exceeds the cost of virtual experiences and employee gifts,” says Taylor Paone, senior manager of employee experience and culture at New York City-based DailyPay. “Depending on the virtual experiences you choose, you're [only] paying for the items, for them to be shipped to each participant, and the costs that go into coordinating these events.”

Some employers are revamping their community giving and philanthropic programs to continue allowing their employees to help their communities, Human Resource Executive reports. Scott Cawood, CEO of Arizona-based WorldatWork, says that his employees are delivering meals to cancer patients at their homes and produce to food pantries. His firm is a global association for HR management professionals with a focus on attracting, motivating and retaining employees.

Athletic apparel giant, Nike, is giving sneakers to healthcare workers, and Nordstrom has charged its alterations teams to create masks for essential workers, Cawood adds.

“No matter what kind of position you find yourself in as you navigate through COVID-19, there’s an opportunity to instill generosity in what you’re doing,” Cawood says. “It gives [employees] a different focus, even for a few moments a day, facilitates our recovery and bounceback, and balances out the negativity.”

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