The workplace Christmas party is something that is loved by some and loathed by others. But this year, under strict government guidance, it is highly unlikely that any workplaces will be able to enjoy a festive get together to celebrate.


Under the latest guidelines group gatherings are banned and the hospitality sector has been forced to close. There is hope that restrictions will be eased to allow for festive celebrations to take place and government announcements will take place before the UK lockdown is lifted, as proposed, on the 2 December.


Without knowing what the restrictions will be it is difficult to plan a workplace Christmas gathering. But it is very unlikely that groups of more than 6 will be able to meet in December at this point.


Business owners and HR professionals will need to think outside of the box this year in order to thank their teams for what has been a trying year.


Alternatives to the Christmas Party


In the absence of a staff ‘do’, employers should consider some other ways they can celebrate or thank staff for their efforts and, of course, have some festive fun.


Some ideas include:

  • A surprise gift on people’s desks or delivered to their homes, for those who are remote working. A gift can vary in size and cost depending on budgets available. Ideas for gifts could include a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine or champagne, a gift voucher, a hamper or something festive such as a Christmas pudding.
  • Hold a virtual Christmas party Many workplaces are all too familiar with Zoom and Teams this year. Perhaps you could use the handy video conferencing tool to host your team celebration, sending staff a ‘party package’ beforehand to include something to eat and drink, even a cracker and party hat. There are many creative ways you can host a party online. You could play some virtual games, host a quiz night, virtual karaoke or host an employee award ceremony.
  • Give the gift of time. Everyone’s time is valuable, you could show employees that you care by giving them an extra day’s holiday by allowing staff to take their birthday off starting from 2021. Alternatively, you could offer your staff a ‘Christmas shopping’ day which they can take in the lead up to Christmas, you could close the office early or if you are usually open you could close your office doors in between Christmas and New Year giving your team a well-deserved extended Christmas break. Gestures like this are really appreciated by staff, particularly those who use a lot of their holiday for childcare or who have not managed to get away from work for much of this year.
  • Boost your employee benefits. A great way of giving something back to your team that lasts longer than a Christmas Party is to add to their employee benefits package. Speak to providers to see if there are any good offers for healthcare or dental care. If your business is keen to promote employee health and wellbeing you could invest in a corporate gym membership or introduce a cycle to work scheme. Are you able to offer free parking to your staff? Perhaps there is something that keeps coming into the staff suggestion box and now is the time to action it.
  • Do something different. Hire someone to host a virtual workshop for your staff to take part in – it could be a wine and cheese tasting evening from the comfort of your own homes, or perhaps a wreath making workshop. You could organise for a crisp winter walk in your local park or National Trust site for small teams or departments with hot chocolates or mulled wine to keep you warm.
  • Postpone in favour of a Summer Ball. It is still difficult to judge where we will be by Summer 2021, but hopefully events on a large scale will be taking place and staff could enjoy a summer BBQ or ball instead of a Christmas Party.
  • If your business has thrived during this difficult year and is in the position to do so, then reward your staff with a Christmas bonus in their last pay cheque of the year. This could be in relation to their targets or their personal performance, or a firm-wide bonus for everyone to say thank you and Merry Christmas.
  • Countdown to Christmas with an advent calendar for each member of staff. You could even incorporate your company branding and push key messages each day with a personalised chocolate advent calendar.
  • Invest in something for your office that all the team can enjoy when they come back to work in the New Year (or whenever it may be thanks to coronavirus). It could be a nice coffee machine, a pool table or table tennis table for your staff break out room or a radio licence for the year.
  • Many people have been affected by coronavirus and some small, local charities have been hard hit with the lack of donations and the cancelling of fundraising events throughout the year. Your business may have a chosen charity or cause that they could donate the money they would have spent on a Christmas party to. Get staff involved by getting them to help select a cause, bring in food for a food bank or take part in fun activities to fundraise.
  • Have some fun. It is important for staff morale to brighten up the dark winter months and bring some cheer into, what might be, a bit of a gloomy Christmas for some. Try to inject some fun into December by holding a Christmas Jumper day, playing Christmas music, having a mince pie bake-off or taking part in a Secret Santa to bring back some normality into the workplace. Think about what is practical, safe and best suited for your employees.

Office Christmas party colleagues celebrating in santa hats

Show Appreciation


According to the Centre for Mental Health, at least half a million more people in UK may experience mental ill health as a result of Covid-19. Employees who have continued to work during challenging times, who have had to quickly adapt to new procedures, the wearing of PPE or being isolated working from home really deserve to be shown some appreciation. Often the workplace Christmas party is a good opportunity for the people at the top to show their thanks for their team’s hard work throughout the year.


In the absence of a Christmas party it is important to give some thought to how you can thank or show gratitude to your employees. Often it does not need to be a grand gesture, a small token of appreciation can go a long way. A firm-wide email acknowledging the difficult circumstances and thanking employees is a good start. Personally, thanking staff or presenting them with a small gift (for example, a bottle of wine, a Christmas pudding or some chocolates) and a hand written Christmas card is good way of making people feel appreciated, especially if you, as an employer, take time to recognise their achievements from this year.


Budget Restrictions


With many businesses having a difficult year and facing some financial uncertainty for the future, some companies will take the view that it would be irresponsible to spend out on lavish gifts, bonuses or attempt a Christmas party this year.


Instead firms may decide to postpone the celebrations and organise a company get-together next year, perhaps in the form of a Summer BBQ event, that allows for outside social distancing if we are still navigating the virus then.


It is worth noting that whilst there is no specific allowance for Christmas parties, HMRC does provide tax exemptions for annual staff events up to the limit of £150 (including VAT) per employee.


HR Headaches of the Christmas Party


Usually the festive period can cause headaches for HR teams who worry about the consequences of issues arising at the work Christmas party. Cancelling the event, however, may not relieve employers of all their concerns. It is still worth being mindful of your obligations as an employer and be careful not to offend or discriminate anyone from the alternative arrangements you decide to put in place this year.


It is also worth considering how to manage employee behavior at a virtual Christmas party, as employers will still have responsibility. If you are holding a virtual event it is best practice to send out a note beforehand addressing expected behavior, even if a businesses is not providing alcohol directly for employees in attendance, they could still be accountable for any drunken behavior, actions or issues arising from a virtual event. A further problem with a virtual event is the potential for the party to be recorded or shared online much easier.


For example, some of your staff may have religious beliefs where it would be inappropriate to thank them with alcohol or Christmas cakes. A disabled member of staff may feel victimised if an alternative event does not take into consideration reasonable adjustments and/or does not disabled employees to participate. If in doubt it is worth getting feedback from your employees.


If you are facing any employment law issues or need some advice, then please get in touch with our Employment Law Team. Call 01256 844888, email enquiries@lambbrooks.com or speak to our online chat assistant.


Other Articles You May Be Interested in Reading:

Should My Employees Be Working From Home?

Leading a Team During a Crisis

Coronavirus & Your Commercial Lease


The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.