Johnny C. Taylor Jr. tackles your human resources questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society and author of "Reset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval.”
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
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Question: Facing the threat of the omicron variant, we decided to cancel our Annual Holiday Party for the second year in a row. What are some good ways we can safely celebrate this holiday season? – Darlene
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: Unfortunately, with all the uncertainty surrounding the newly identified omicron COVID-19 variant, many organizations like yours are being forced again to rethink their holiday party plans. This is especially dispiriting, given our collective experience last year with the cancellation of all but the smallest in-person gatherings.
Your question is a personal one for me: As the president and CEO of a professional association employing hundreds of people, we had to make the difficult decision to cancel our annual office party for the second consecutive year. The fact is: we don’t know what the science is going to tell us a week from now, and we don’t want to take the risk of a large gathering turning into a super spreader event. While your in-person plans may have been reversed, there are still some promising alternatives worthy of a look.
Throughout the pandemic, several businesses stepped in to fill the need for more dynamic virtual events, and many are finding great success in delivering some truly innovative experiences. They are discovering some creative ways to bring people together to take the focus off work and instill some fun, camaraderie and even a healthy dose of competition. There are a host of virtual activities including games, trivia and mystery solving. Team building activities allow participants to experience each other in a new context.
Some extraordinary entrepreneurs also even host virtual craft sessions. Several bartenders and talented chefs took their crafts online to host multi-person events to virtually walk participants through the process of making festive drinks and signature holiday recipes. Learning how to make eggnog, gingerbread cookies, peppermint bark or mulled wine can leave employees with lasting impressions.
Be sure to customize your holiday event to fit your corporate culture, reinforce the value of your company, and emphasize the collective “vibe” you want to create. With a little creativity and resourcefulness, you might bring some joy to your staff after all. I wish you, your organization, and your people a very happy holiday season!
Q: I am the owner of a mortgage company. A recent survey revealed that many of them have expressed interest in personal health and fitness. What are some types of health and wellness benefits we should explore? – Penny
Taylor: Kudos to your company for surveying their workers. When creating positive employee experiences, the first step is listening to the workforce and getting a sense of what is important in their lives. These days, workers appreciate support in the areas of physical and mental well-being.
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Start by looking at your health insurance and Employee Assistance Program offerings. Oftentimes, many health and wellness benefits are already available but are underutilized by employees. Check their utilization rates. If they’re low, you may want to promote them more or replace them with offerings that better suit your employees’ needs. There are even virtual wellness courses available with a host of fitness and nutrition classes to explore.
Not all wellness initiatives require a significant financial investment. Local community wellness programs, like yoga in the park and healthy cooking demonstrations, are great opportunities to share with your workforce. Your local health department is also a valuable resource in connecting your workforce to wellness opportunities throughout the region.
Going further, you can even partner with local wellness providers to create discount programs for memberships and classes. If there is widespread interest, there may be opportunities to sponsor targeted fitness programs and demonstrations as well.
Whatever options you decide to employ, let your people know about them. Promote these opportunities in newsletters, in workplace signage and at company events. Continue to listen to feedback, so you can tailor your offerings to your workers’ needs and receive the best return on your investments. Keep advocating for the health and wellbeing of your workers, and they will appreciate it!
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: With creativity, a virtual office holiday party can be quite festive.