No big bang year-end parties for corporate employees as celebrations turn virtual, private

With Covid still very active, corporate year-end celebrations this year are a scaled-down affair. Companies are either taking the virtual route or encouraging employees to spend time with their families, while finding other ways, such as awards, to recognise their contributions

December 31, 2020 / 11:57 AM IST

Year-end celebrations across Indian companies are a lavish affair with parties for employees and gift exchanges. However, 2020 will be a stark contrast to previous years with employees either being encouraged to celebrate the year-end with their families or be part of small events virtually.

This is amidst remote working due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Moneycontrol spoke to a dozen companies in the banking, tax consulting, consumer electronics and financial services space. A majority of the companies said that instead of arranging for virtual parties, they have nudged employees to take leave in the last week of December and spend time with their loved ones while also being a part of CSR activities.

IIFL Group is extensively using Facebook at Work and other video hosting apps to connect with its over 18,000 employees across 2,500 locations in India.

The company spokesperson said that as a part of ongoing year-end events, employees virtually celebrated ‘Anand Utsav’ showcasing talent of girl students from across 1,200 Sakhiyon Ki Baadi schools run by IIFL Foundation, where 36,000 girls study.

On December 31, founder Nirmal Jain will connect with over 18,000 employees across 2,500 locations through Facebook at Work, where he will answer questions live, followed by leader and employee connections for different businesses. Employee talent will be celebrated live as well as through recorded videos of their participation in various competitions.

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The idea is to also fight the digital fatigue that has crept in after 10 months of remote working among employees.

The head of human resources for India at a global consulting firm said that initially the plan was to have small parties (with 15-20 people) for new joinees across Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, with options to join in virtually (with sponsored food) as well. But it was called off after employees expressed unwillingness to participate in it.

“We were open to having small parties throughout the last week of December especially for the newer joinees. But the employees seem to be tired of virtual events on the one hand and are not comfortable (rightly so) of stepping out for physical events. The consensus was that they would prefer time off to spend with their family and friends,” he added.

What are companies doing?

Since WFH is the new-normal across India Inc, corporates want to use this opportunity to get to know employees and their family members better.

At Tata Realty, employees were part of several virtual events where employees could participate with their families.

Reena Wahi, Senior Vice President and Head HR, Business Excellence and CSR, Tata Realty & Infrastructure, said that the company had a special celebration that would benefit two great causes.

The first was Rambo Circus which had been struggling to adapt to the virtual setup. Wahi said that this led them to invite all employees of Tata Realty and their families for a Rambo Circus performance and a costume competition designed for the kids of employees.

“The virtual event witnessed a participation of around 650 people and all the costume competition participants were declared as winners of gift vouchers,” she added.

Their second initiative for Christmas/New Year was in partnership with Goodera to brighten up Christmas for children in shelter homes, through the Wish Tree initiative. All employees were invited to log on to a virtual platform set up in partnership with Goodera and volunteer to gift storybooks, board games, school bags and more to children from shelter homes.

“The employees could buy gifts on Amazon and get them delivered to a shelter home close to their town. Goodera had collected the Christmas wishes of all the kids and we were informed that most of the children’s wishes have been fulfilled. A special instance is our Chennai team, which went to (sporting goods chain) Decathlon to shop for these children,” she said.

At PepsiCo India, celebrations began a little early because the company wanted to allow employees to log out from work and spend time with their families during the Christmas/New Year period. Instead of having year-end parties, the company wants them to spend time with their loved ones.

Pavitra Singh, CHRO, PepsiCo India said that the company continued to leverage technology and celebrate special occasions with colleagues and their families.

“From sending family gift hampers to celebrate wins, delivering family meals to ensure family time, sending appreciation letters to the entire family and organising Festive Family Day to conducting Zoom sessions with games, and physical workouts, we continue to express our appreciation and encompass not for just the employee but the entire family in these celebrations,” she added.

Will this trend continue?

Delhi-based employee engagement consultant Farzin Mehta told Moneycontrol that till the time India gets the Coronavirus vaccine, celebrations will stay virtual.

“Even as part of the 2021 employee engagement and team building strategy, companies are focussing primarily on virtual events and charitable activities where staff can get involved. The idea is to have activities that are more meaningful than mere virtual parties where 60-65 percent of employees don’t turn up,” he added.

Mehta also said that fitness-related challenges between teams, which will be competitive in nature, will also replace regular indoor/outdoor parties for festivities from now on.

Mumbai-based corporate event planner Shirley Lobo has a similar view. She said that no major offsites have been planned by large companies for the January to March 2021 period. Lobo works with companies in the retail/FMCG, automobile, consumer electronics, banking and insurance sectors.

“In August/September, events like villa parties, lakeside camping and even short treks with a limited team size of 7-10 people were originally planned for year-end celebrations by corporates. But these plans were cancelled by the first week of December. Interestingly, the cancellations were not due to Covid-19 fears but because employees themselves sought private time with families,” she added.

With WFH set to continue at least till July 2021, the digital fatigue of employees and higher priority for family time will be a reality.
M Saraswathy is a business journalist with 10 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, she covers consumer durables, insurance, education and human resources beat for Moneycontrol.
first published: Dec 31, 2020 11:57 am

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