5 ways to celebrate the holidays despite the downturn

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in HR Management,Human Resources

Amid the layoffs and belt-tightening, the December holidays still can be a time for your organization to show its appreciation to employees.

Businesses may skimp a little on the holiday parties this year, but caterers say not many are canceling them. And HR consultants advise them not to.

“Cutting the Christmas party sort of makes people scared about their jobs,” notes Larry Weaver, an entertainer who specializes in corporate events. “It sends the message that things aren’t going well at work, and it gives them one more thing to worry about.”

Your organization doesn’t have to cancel holiday festivities because of the weak economy. Here are five ways to add some holiday sparkle during financially dark times:

1. Pare down the party. Last year, 70% of businesses hosted a holiday party, and a quarter of them spent less than $5,000 to do it. When times are hard, employees might find a simple gathering more appropriate than a glitzy affair. A little less might be better for employee morale than none at all.

2. Don’t forget Friday.
Christmas falls on a Thursday this year, so you’ll score a lot of points with employees if you add Dec. 26 to your paid-holiday calendar.

3. Go easy on gifts. Encourage or mandate a no-gift policy so employees who can’t afford to buy for colleagues, bosses and clients won’t feel obligated to. Likewise, forbid or limit the gifts that some employees might usually accept from vendors or clients.

4. Bring back the bird.
More than 60% of organizations no longer hand out holiday bonus checks, opting instead to reward employees year-round for exceptional performances. That could be one reason why the long-time tradition of giving holiday turkeys to employees is seeing a comeback. About 6% of employers practiced the nearly extinct tradition last year, compared with just 2% in 2005.

Tip: Give a grocery store gift card—or one from a general retailer such as Target or Sears—so staff can choose exactly the merchandise they need.

5. Chip in for charity.
Organize a charity food or gift drive and encourage employees to participate. When money is tight, one of the first cuts people—and businesses—make is in charitable giving.

Last year, 58% of all employers were involved in charitable holiday activities such as toy drives, according to the Bureau of National Affairs. That was down from 72% in 2004.

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