The holiday season is a joyous time of year. For many, it represents a time of giving and togetherness. It’s common to celebrate the more traditional winter holidays during this time at work. These can be exciting opportunities to demonstrate your gratitude for your employees and their hard work year round, to get to know them better, and allow them to have fun and be together. We came up with a few ways you can celebrate your employees this holiday season.

Volunteer together

Volunteering together can be a great way to unify you and your employees. Volunteering brings people together from different departments, backgrounds, generations and cultures. Service creates a unique opportunity where all of your employees can be united in purpose to achieve a common goal, particularly if it’s one that benefits your community.

This setting helps break down barriers to allow people to connect more authentically with their coworkers. Serving together improves collaboration and strengthens trust, and can lead to an increase in employee engagement. A study by SAP showed nearly $40 million revenue fluctuation when employee engagement rose or fell by just 1%. These benefits can be hard to achieve in an office environment.

Not to mention:

  • A study from United Healthcare and VolunteerMatch found that almost three-fourths of employees who take on volunteer jobs through work reported feeling better about their full-time job.
  • Doing good is good for your health. The same study found that 93 percent of people reported an improved mood; 79 percent reported lower stress levels, 88 percent reported increased self-esteem by giving back.

Take the team out for a group event or class

People love getting out of the office. Maybe you’re office is full of die-hard basketball fans and you take the team out for an evening game. If you have a limited budget, you could consider going to a local bar or restaurant to watch a sporting event together.

There are a variety of other options such as art classes, yoga classes, cooking classes, and more can engender a sense of comradery amongst your employees. Not to mention there are therapeutic benefits from engaging in activities like these, creative expression, stress relief, and problem-solving.

Hire an entertainer

Holiday parties don’t have to be boring. You can hire a magician, comedian, dancers, DJs, etc. to make holiday parties more exciting for people. Entertainers give you a break so you can sit and enjoy the party, and lets the entertainers engage with the crowd in a fun way.

Host a dinner

It’s not a bad idea to take the traditional route. Providing a space where employees feel like they can relax and enjoy each other’s’ company is always a nice gesture. You can rent an event space or go to a restaurant. If you’re a smaller office and everyone feels comfortable, you can host it at someone’s home. If you’re on a budget, consider hosting a potluck at the office. Getting people away from their desks with some good food can do wonders.

Gift exchange

Gift exchanges are a popular way to celebrate the giving season. You can organize a Secret Santa or white elephant gift exchange for willing participants. Be sure to include clear instructions when setting up a gift exchange like price limits and rules so people know what to expect. Not all employees have the time or money to purchase gifts so it’s best not to force people to participate or set exorbitant price ranges.

Fun ideas for exchanges: a book exchange, cookie exchange, recipe exchange, mug exchange, service or favor exchange – get creative!

Host a movie night

What’s easier than watching a movie or going to a play? It’s easy to see if local movie theaters are showing any holiday classics you can take your team to watch. Local theaters often have less expensive, local productions you can take advantage of that can put you in the holiday spirit. It taking your team out isn’t an option, maybe you can create your own theater experience in the office. All you need is a projector and a blank wall. Get some popcorn and fun treats, like a cookie or hot chocolate bar, and let your employees enjoy an afternoon away from their desks.

Multi-cultural celebration

The Christmas theme can dominate end of year celebrations but there are plenty of ways and opportunities to include the many ways in which we celebrate. Find ways to celebrate everyone in your office by setting up multi-cultural decorations or recognizing different traditions amongst employees. Consider hosting a potluck where people can bring in food that represent their cultures and backgrounds.

Here are just a few of the ways people celebrate at the end of the year:

  • Saint Nicholas Day (Christian)
  • Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexican)
  • St. Lucia Day (Swedish)
  • Hanukkah (Jewish)
  • Christmas Day (Christian)
  • Three Kings Day/Epiphany (Christian)
  • Boxing Day (Australian, Canadian, English, Irish)
  • Kwanzaa (African American)
  • Omisoka (Japanese)
  • Yule (Pagan)
  • Saturnalia (Pagan)
  • Diwali (Hindu)

Give employees extra time off

Time is a commodity; one we never seem to have enough of. This is never more true than during the holidays.

  • According to Deloitte’s US Consumer Business Holiday survey, consumers expect to take an average of 5.7 shopping trips this season, 57% expect to complete their holiday shopping in December.
  • 42% of employees also say December is the most stressful time of the year.
  • It’s also a busy travel season, long lines, cold and flu season, bad/cold weather.

Giving your employees back some time to spend with family and friends is a welcome gift. It could be half-day to finish up holiday shopping or an extra day to help them recover from the rush and craziness of the holidays. This option saves you from having to plan an event and guarantees happy employees. Maybe a few extra hours is just what they need!

Gingerbread house-making

What is more festive than making a gingerbread house during the holidays?! You can use this a team-building activity or stir up a little friendly competition. Provide all of the supplies for your employees. Maybe offer some treats or lunch alongside the competition. Provide prizes for winners. Set a theme and let people creative and wacky. Oh, and make sure you pick some good judges if you go the competition route.

Happy hour or lunch

Sometimes you’re employees need a way to blow off a little steam, whether it’s during lunch time or after work. Taking your employees out to lunch or a local happy hour could do the trick. Instituting a “Free Lunch Friday” or happy hour Friday during the holiday season could provide a regular way to show your employees your appreciation and allow them the opportunity to enjoy themselves.

It’s important to remember that everyone celebrates the holidays (or doesn’t celebrate the holidays) differently. Religious or cultural differences should be handled with respect. It’s best to not make holiday parties or celebrations mandatory. You might consider offering alternatives for those who do not celebrate or recognize traditional holiday celebrations. Be flexible. Ask your employees for their input in holiday planning. Talking to as many employees as you can gives you an accurate picture of how people are feeling, and gives you the opportunity to provide them with a party or perk that they actually want.

The ultimate goal of any holiday party or event is to make your employees happy. Find out how to increase employee engagement and build trust at work.