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3 ways to engage employees this holiday season

For many, the holidays are a time of joy and togetherness as we move into that famous Wisconsin winter. In 2020, however, nothing has happened quite in the way we are used to, and the holidays will be no exception. 

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommending that large gatherings be avoided, we will all be looking for new ways to celebrate – with our families, friends, and in the workplace. 

Keeping your employees and team members engaged this holiday season will mean mixing old and new: transforming the beloved holiday party to a virtual event, saying “thank you” in new and innovative ways, and taking the time to connect – whether you’re working in-person or remotely.

From my (virtual) workplace to yours, here are three ways to engage your employees this holiday season: 

  1. Cultivate a culture of gratitude.
    Numerous studies have shown that practicing gratitude leads to greater feelings of happiness, improved relationships, and an increased sense of connectedness to the world around us. These benefits even translate to the workplace: a study from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that employees were motivated to work harder when thanked for their work by their manager.  Whether your workforce is in-person or remote, cultivating a culture of gratitude can have many positive effects. When you see an employee or coworker doing something great, let them know how much you appreciate them right away. Other ideas include: inviting one employee each day to share what they are grateful for in an email to staff. Encourage managers to take time during staff meetings to acknowledge the hard work of their teams. Create a gratitude board (tangible or virtual) where employees can share their gratitude.
  2. Find fun ways to stay connected.
    One of the best weeks of the year at United Way is our internal fundraising campaign – naturally, we go all out! Themed days, team trivia, yoga classes at lunch, dance parties…you name it. In 2020, our internal campaign was entirely virtual and my favorite part was getting to connect with coworkers as we participated in activities. And the evidence isn’t just anecdotal; studies show that maintaining connections – with friends, family and, yes, coworkers – is good for both mental and physical health. Encourage employees to safely connect during this season: host a virtual “lunchroom” where employees can gather to chat. Transform your holiday party into a virtual gathering with games and themed outfits. Invite employees with special skills – like cooking or painting – to share their talents in a virtual lunch and learn. And advocate for adding a little extra time to team meetings for coworkers to talk informally about their days, plans, families, and ideas. Even 10 minutes can make a world of difference.
  3. Keep traditions alive in new ways.
    For many, the holiday season is a time to give back. Traditions like volunteering, making an end-of-year contribution to a favorite charity, and participating in a workplace Giving Tree are all still possible – with some modifications. This year, the need for basics like food, shelter, and employment are greater than ever. A gift to United Way’s Community Fund supports more than 100 local nonprofits that are meeting the needs of our community. If you like to give your time, there are dozens of ways to volunteer safely, whether in-person or virtually. And, in 2020, United Way’s Holiday Giving Tree has gone virtual – for just $30, you can put a smile on the face of a local child, adult, or senior in need.

In a time of great uncertainty, the holidays are a perfect time to ground ourselves in the things that matter: health, happiness, togetherness, and taking care of our community. On behalf of the entire United Way team, happy holidays!

Feeling inspired? Visit to learn how you can get involved. 


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Katie Kuhn is a marketing specialist at United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County

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