As the year draws to a close, many employers are navigating how to mark the holiday season and end of a challenging 2020 while employees work from home. FlexJobs, a career site for remote workers, has operated in a fully remote capacity for nearly 14 years, has 84 employees and 42 contractors across the U.S. and manages flexible-work job postings from more than 5,000 global companies.
Carol Cochran, vice president of people and culture at FlexJobs, shared with CNBC Make It how the company is showing appreciation for workers this holiday season and how organizations that've never hosted year-end events virtually can do so successfully in the coming weeks.
Virtual holiday parties this year don't need to measure up to events in years past. According to a recent Monster survey, 59% of workers said they would appreciate their company hosting a virtual holiday party, and 47% are fine with it taking place through a more informal video call.
"Keep it simple," Cochran says. "Especially this year, people really just want to connect with one another."
FlexJobs generally sticks to simple group activities that can be done through video chats and sending packages to each other by mail, such as Secret Santa gift exchanges, cookie swaps, ugly sweater contests and virtual lunches.
"Consider sending everyone a gift card for a food delivery service or have them get their favorite lunch and expense the meal to enjoy during a virtual celebration," Cochran says.
For larger gatherings, she recommends a host kicks things off and, throughout the course of the event, moves people into different breakout rooms to facilitate better conversation among colleagues.
The holidays are a time for giving, and given the way the coronavirus pandemic has impacted many Americans' health and financial security, employees may request that any funds generally reserved for year-end events instead be donated back to the community.
At FlexJobs, the company selects five nonprofits each year and invites employees to vote on their favorite. The company then tallies votes for each organization and sends a donation amount representing each employee's pick. "It's a great way to unite as a team and help out some great nonprofits that are putting good out in the world," Cochran says.
Beginning in October, FlexJobs gave employees every other Friday off through the end of the year. Organizations that are able to do so may offer workers more paid days off to encourage them to take time for themselves and prioritize their mental and physical wellness.
Despite 69% of workers saying they were stressed in the last month, according to a survey of 5,110 LinkedIn users in November, roughly half of all workers say they will take off less time around the holidays this year than they did in 2019.
Designating one or several dates as mandatory days off can help employees more easily unplug, rather than leaving it to them to coordinate time off with their manager.
Cochran says FlexJobs generally gifts employees with gift cards to their favorite restaurants, on-the-spot bonuses and other small gifts and notes of appreciation during the holiday season.
Another sample of just under 2,400 LinkedIn members surveyed in mid-November finds that roughly 1 in 2 would prefer a bonus over other seasonal activities or celebrations.
Monster career expert Vicki Salemi says organizations that aren't sure how to use remaining budgets for year-end recognition should simply ask employees what they would prefer most and accommodate requests where they're financially able to do so.
"A lot of companies are more financially strapped this year, so resources for expressing gratitude in a tangible way may be more difficult," Cochran says. However, expressing gratitude to employees in an authentic and personalized way, even if low-budget, can make a big impact: "Make sure managers are connecting with each person to talk about their specific contributions and to acknowledge their own experience of this year. Hopefully, leaders have been practicing this throughout the year — more frequent check-ins and an understanding of any unique challenges a person may be experiencing."
Indeed, researchers at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business recently found that employees feel underappreciated, especially by their bosses, based on surveys of 1,200 Americans and journals from 58 professionals.
Researchers say managers can be more effective in the way they express gratitude by understanding workers' preferences for being recognized. For example, younger workers ages 18 to 44 generally tend to prefer both written and spoken thanks, while older workers over 45 tend to prefer spoken messages of gratitude.
Workers said they value written thanks because it shows time and effort; involves reflection; can serve as a documentation for success; and it's particularly suitable for major accomplishments. Workers appreciate spoken thanks, on the other hand, because it is more casual, physically expressive and it can be a form of public recognition. Men, at 47%, are more likely than women, 32%, to want public thanks from their bosses.
Whatever method of expression, says Cochran, "acknowledge the challenges of the year, recognize the wins and express gratitude and appreciation for what has gone well."