Decking the halls with employee engagement at Christmas


By Kelly Kass

If you’re looking to promote employee engagement in your organization, the holidays are a perfect time to build high morale and camaraderie among your staff. With the proper decorations and festive gatherings, it’s possible to turn even the biggest office Scrooge into a jolly old Santa Claus.

In this toolkit, we offer ways to let your employees know you care. They’ve worked hard all year; they’re ready to be rewarded for their efforts. Here are some ways to spread holiday cheer in your company.

  1. Events
  2. Decorations
  3. Time off
  4. Bonuses


Of course everyone throws their usual Christmas party in December. While they can be lovely affairs (if not a bit rowdy), it’s all too possible for people to get lost in the crowd at such a large event – if they even remember it at all! (hangover permitting)

  1. Think small – Instead of relying on a big do to bring people together, try organizing more intimate, departmental gatherings during office hours. Employees will appreciate the break and best of all it doesn’t have to break your budget. A simple takeaway and a conference room is all you need. My former Production Manager started the fun tradition of Hanukkah lunches. Every December, she treated the entire department – as well as freelancers – to a New York Kosher deli feast of turkey, corned beef, potato latkas and apple sauce. For an hour and a half, we spun dreidels and happily stuffed our faces while others enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about Jewish cuisine and culture.
  2. Spread the wealth – Around the holidays, gift baskets are inevitable. As soon as December hits, you’re surrounded by mounds of chocolate truffles and gingerbread cookies. Rather than re-gifting them for your in-laws, try placing them in the kitchen or reception area. It will get people out of their offices and engaging with one another.
  3. Organize gift exchanges – A popular Christmas tradition in the States is the Secret Santa gift exchange (aka the more politically correct “holiday gift exchange”). Colleagues randomly choose names out of a hat and must anonymously buy a present for whomever they wind up picking. To ease financial pressures, a spending limit of about $20 is usually set. On the day of the event, people gather in front of the tree where they exchange presents, sip egg nog and nibble on holiday sweets.
  4. Promote charity work – The gift-giving doesn’t have to be limited to co-workers. The holidays are a particularly popular time when it comes to charity. At my previous company, one of the managers organized donations for Toys for Tots, a national charity which collects new toys to distribute to needy children. There’s nothing like giving back to the community to raise employee morale.


  1. Be culturally aware – If you’re going to be organizing office parties and gift exchanges, decorations are a must. But before you get out those dancing Santas and frolicking reindeer, keep in mind the other religions around the office. In this day and age, it’s extremely important to be ethnically sensitive. Therefore, be sure to include a menorah near your Christmas tree. I’ve worked in some offices which even put up Happy Kwanzaa signs. In short, always do your best so no one feels left out.
  2. Promote teambuilding – The decorating process itself is a particularly good way to promote teambuilding. Tree-trimming is a great group activity. In addition to putting people in the holiday spirit, it offers employees the chance to work together on a fun project that doesn’t involve spreadsheets or pitch documents. At my last company, our Video Department went all out during the holidays, adorning the walls with garland and lights. An inflatable dreidel and singing Santa were two of my personal favorites and were always met with a chuckle when the CEO walked by. Decorations simply put people in a good mood. And when one person is in a good mood, it usually spreads. Happy employees equal productive employees.
  3. Keep decking those halls – When it comes to taking down your
    decorations, don’t be afraid to leave them up through December 31st. I’ve encountered situations where there was controversy over taking the tree down on the day after Christmas. Why not leave the spirit alive through the week? Just because many will be out of the office, it doesn’t mean there won’t be some colleagues around to enjoy it. I remember the tree being nice company on days when I was the only employee working in the office during the Christmas week.

Time off

Since things slow down considerably during the holidays, it is the perfect opportunity for bosses to show their appreciation by allowing for some extra time off if possible.

  1. Vacation days – At one of my former companies, the new President implemented an added vacation day around the holidays to reward everyone for their hard work. For someone new to the organization, the move was a brilliant one. It immediately brought her into employees’ good graces. Everyone appreciates a day off, especially during Christmas. In New York, some advertising and consulting companies wind up closing the entire week.
  2. Early release – If you’re worried about productivity and don’t want to authorize “comp” days, then opt for releasing your staff early the day before a holiday. In the States, 2 or 3 pm is usually the norm before Thanksgiving and Christmas; however, there always seems to be one manager who insists on coverage till the clock strikes 5 (even though most clients will probably be on the road long before that). When closing up early, particularly if you’re an IT or other service-oriented department, be sure to distribute a company-wide e-mail alerting staff so they have ample time to get in any requests. The last thing you want is someone coming to you with a problem at 2:55 pm.


  1. Money talks (if there is any) – In good times, employees have always come to expect a little extra something in their Christmas stockings: bonuses. I remember many instances where I flocked to my mailbox during the last pay period of the year to receive that covetous extra sum. Any griping about long hours and insufficient pay would temporarily be forgotten once everyone received their bonuses. Given the way the economy has been these past couple of years, more and more companies have done away with Christmas bonuses. If that’s the case, be sure to communicate gently the possibility of not distributing a bonus so employees don’t get a rude awakening when they go to their empty mailbox. To further soothe the situation, be sure to praise the hard work that employees have done throughout the year and stress any other bright spots you can think of (e.g. the possibility of more client work coming the company’s way in the new year).
  2. It’s the thought that counts –in lieu of a large bonus, and if budget allows, try opting for more inexpensive tokens of your appreciation, like wine or gift cards. Taking the time to shop for your staff and colleagues adds a thoughtful, personal touch. The effort alone shows you value and appreciate them.