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Socially distanced Christmas parties suck – are there alternatives?

Instead of an online Christmas party, why not think about lingering gifts for valued employees?

11th Dec 2020
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The media and enterprising marketers are still suggesting that caring companies should set up Zoom Christmas parties.

Personally, the idea of drinking a glass of cheap wine, eating a budget brand mince pie and communing with colleagues over the Internet has about as much appeal as sitting on a park bench in sub-zero temperatures.

Ideas for pepping up parties by hiring in an online conjurer or an off-the-peg quiz just add to the sadness of a poor substitute for what to some is the undisputed highlight of the accounting year.

Even the celebratory Yuletide park bench picnic is out of the question unless your firm is very small or based in Cornwall or the Isle of Wight.

The good news for employers is that if you cancel the Christmas party, a healthy pot of previously committed money appears.

Given the almost inevitable dip in profitability in the last nine months, some might be tempted to pocket the savings and say yah boo sucks to hard-working members of staff. That is not the most positive response.

Instead, why not think about investing the money in some memorable, lingering gifts that will make everyone who has had to put up with so much since the start of the pandemic appreciate your generosity?

Here are a few random ideas that will not break the bank but could make you seem closer to Father Christmas than Scrooge.

Over the last few weeks, Amazon Kindles have frequently been on sale, making them relatively affordable. You could even think about adding a few helpful accountancy textbooks to encourage and excite recipients.

If reading isn’t someone’s bag, how about listening to music? There are several companies offering impressive subscriptions. This columnist’s personal favourite is Qobuz, which has a gigantic library, much of it high-res quality.

For those that are into movies or sports, subscriptions to channels such as Netflix or BT could be really appealing.

Even in these heavily computerised days, people still need to use pens. It would be perfectly possible to invest in a really upmarket brand and, to add a twist, emboss it with your firm’s logo without breaking the bank.

For anyone that has still not been excited, perhaps a case of wine obtained at preferential rates from a friendly client might be tempting or, failing that, how about a modest hamper from Fortnum & Mason’s?

Last but not necessarily least is the unimaginative option of a gift voucher from a favourite store. The dual risk here is that the tax liability could be a little more expensive and, if your employees merely use it for the weekly shop, you won’t get the same long-term levels of appreciation.

The whole purpose of this project is to make staff really happy without the usual consequence of hangover duvet days, which can be very costly particularly when you want people to be completing tax returns.

If, at the same time, you can restrict the cost to no more than the original Christmas party then this is a true win-win situation.

Without wishing to get too boring, it is always a good idea to check with your tax partner regarding any hidden liabilities.

As a general rule there are two possible solutions, assuming that you don’t want to land your grateful employees with a tax bill months or years after the (non-) event.

If you can manage to keep the budget to £50 and have not used it elsewhere, there is the very handy trivial benefits exemption.

Alternatively, it may be simpler to bundle whatever you offer into a PAYE Settlement Agreement, although the gift needs to be “minor” or “regular”. These are not cheap but they do make life much easier for all concerned.

Have fun choosing and sharing.

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