It’s the holiday season and employees don’t know how to spend it. How COVID-19 has affected PTO, employee morale and workplace cultures.

Rethinking Employee Engagement Tactics
While holiday parties are non-existent at most companies this year, employee engagement should be prioritized in a difficult year.

By: Lina Tonk, VP of Marketing, isolved HCM

Amid the pandemic, full-time workers will be carving the turkey and decking the halls closer to home, a new survey by HCM technology provider isolved indicates.

The Oct. 26-27 survey of 300 full-time employees shows 70% won’t travel out of state this holiday season and 38% will take less paid time off (PTO). AAA Travel predicts at least a 10% decline in Thanksgiving travel this year versus 2019, with air travel projected to plummet by almost 50%. That would be the greatest one-year decline in Thanksgiving travel since 2008, during the Great Recession.

Although there seems to be a dramatic holiday PTO drop-off this year, HR professionals advise employers to encourage employees’ PTO through the end of the year even if their travel plans are hampered. Among other benefits, this can help reduce burnout and enhance the employee experience.

Fortunately, according to the isolved survey, 81% of full-time employees believe their job is secure this holiday season, even though 54% report the pandemic has in some way harmed their employment, such as a reduction in pay (15%) and a cut in hours (14%). Even worse, 6% reported they were laid off and 6% reported they were furloughed.

One positive from the pandemic is that 56% of full-time employees say employee experience will be more important to them in 2021 than it was this year. Yet 45% of employees rate their employee experience as “average,” even as 40% ranked company culture higher in importance than it was a year ago.

With employees requiring more from workplace leaders, businesses must rethink engagement tactics, particularly when the pandemic has limited or canceled in-person workplace activities like holiday parties. Therefore, employers could benefit from collaborative and self-serve tools aimed at helping improve the workplace experience. These tools are critical at a time — holiday or not — when attracting and retaining talent is undergoing substantial shifts:

  • Company culture is changing, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.
  • Remote work is opening the door to job possibilities for people no longer dependent on location.
  • Consumer experiences are changing how team members expect to interact digitally with employers.
  • Working parents are seeking greater flexibility in balancing their children’s virtual learning.
  • Office perks are suddenly irrelevant to many who are choosing to work remotely.

The isolved survey also shows the pandemic apparently has cooled employees’ excitement about holiday festivities, in part because so many people are working remotely. When asked what they would like most from their employer this holiday season, just 1% of employees cited in-person or virtual parties and only 6% mentioned holiday gifts. In much higher demand are bonuses (37%), job security (35%) and annual merit raises (21%).

The isolved survey results align with findings from a recent survey by outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. Just 23% of companies surveyed by the firm planned to hold holiday parties this year, down from nearly 76% in 2019. The coronavirus pandemic bore the brunt of the blame for employers putting a damper on the work environment this year. Of those that are hosting parties, 1.3% will hold them in person without any coronavirus precautions.

In the isolved survey, 62% of employees said they’re not planning to give holiday gifts to colleagues this year. A 2019 survey by Office Depot found 7 in 10 employees worked someplace with a holiday gift-giving tradition, such as a secret Santa or white elephant program. Most of these will fall by the wayside in 2020. Overall, approximately one-third of Americans aren’t giving holiday gifts this year due to COVID-19, according to a survey by personal finance website WalletHub.

“In difficult economic times, people tend to indulge in inexpensive ways. The fact that so many people are planning to forego holiday gifts entirely speaks to the economic pain that they are feeling,” Edward Fox, a marketing professor at Southern Methodist University, told WalletHub. While this pales into comparison to everything else people have had to give up in 2020, the fact that this is top-of-mind for employees shows how different this year is for many – whether in the workplace or at home.

In light of the rapidly evolving work environment this holiday season and this year — less engagement in the form of gift exchanges and other activities, less PTO being taken, more emphasis on company culture and so forth — it’s more vital than ever for employers to be equipped with technology that enables streamlined management of things like:

  • Attracting and hiring talent.
  • Onboarding and developing talent.
  • Tracking PTO.
  • Empowering employees to share, perform, learn and grow.

As we look ahead to the New Year, technology can be your partner in helping ensure that employees feel secure in their jobs during uncertain times and in helping your workplace tackle a growing list of management challenges.

About Author:
Lina Tonk is VP of Marketing at isolved, a leader in employee experience. A B2B marketer for over 15 years, Tonk leads isolved’s marketing communications and channel group to accelerate the company’s next phase of growth with high-energy execution. She’s focused on brand impacting demand and is responsible for high-growth marketing strategies across each stakeholder group from customers and channel alliances to prospects and partners. Tonk’s day-to-day work impacts owned, earned and paid media, and she has a passion for positively influencing company culture and sales and marketing synergies. At isolved, she oversaw a successful launch of the Partner Network, multiple M&A brand transitions, product release strategies and a market-impacting rebrand. Tonk is a native of Colombia and now lives in Virginia with her husband and two teenagers where she spends her downtime running, geeking out on marketing trends, and championing diversity and inclusion.