Staff events suffer from the ultimate disruption

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

STAFF EVENTS: It's a classic Catch-22 situation. The pandemic has proved to be the ultimate disruption for traditional end-of-year events for teams. But it has also led to massive disengagement making those get-togethers more important than ever before.

The last 22 months have been challenging for many, but especially for businesses. Here in Southeast Asia, many companies have been forced to restructure, reorganise, and even retrench, as top lines fizzled out — and bottom lines narrowed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Singapore Airlines Group, for example, had to lay off around 2,400 employees, eliminate 1,900 others via an early-retirement scheme, and reduce salaries across the board by at least 10% last year. This came after its passenger carriage business across all three of its airlines plummeted to nearly nothing.

The situation was no better at other regional airlines like Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas, with each also axing thousands of staff.

Undoubtedly, the aviation sector was hit the hardest by the pandemic. But smaller-scale retrenchment exercises have also been reported across other industries in the region.

Grab, GoJek, iFlix, Zilingo and Traveloka, to name a few examples, each parted ways with hundreds of full-timers in 2020, as supply chains broke down, and demand dried out amid movement lockdowns and border tightening measures.

Singapore-headquartered financial comparison site GoBear suffered an even worse fate. The fintech startup, which first announced a modest round of layoffs in September 2020, said four months later that it would cease all operations due to its inability to raise more funds. This came as a shock to the investment community, as the company had only just raised S$17 million in May last year.

Besides these challenges, employers have also continued to battle the issues of talent retention and staff engagement during these volatile times.

A recent survey conducted by Monster showed that 95% of employees are currently considering switching jobs, with 92% even willing to change industries to land a preferred new position.

And their number one reason for wanting to quit? Burnout.

An Indeed poll from March this year further revealed that two-thirds of US professionals felt that workplace burnout has worsened during the pandemic.

This is worrying for today's companies, many of whom are increasingly dependent upon skilled labour for survival. If these employers lose their best staff, then their margins are likely to suffer in the long run as well.

This means that while companies are concerned about keeping operational costs low during these volatile times, providing positive employee experiences has also become highly crucial. As the saying goes, happy employees lead to happy customers, which leads to more business.

Can that annual staff party still take place?

It is, thus, not surprising that while purse strings have tightened, there are still companies out there looking for creative, cost-efficient, yet effective ways of keeping their workforces engaged.

One way, organisations have traditionally kept their employees’ spirits up is through annual staff events, like dinner and dance soirees, and appreciation parties.

But with Covid-19 restrictions in place for the better part of the last two years, it has become nearly impossible for any sort of large-scale event to be held.

In Singapore, although MICE event pilots have been allowed to host up to 250 pre-tested participants at various stages of its lockdown history, these refer only to business-oriented events, such as meetings, conferences, and exhibitions.

Events that are substantially social, recreational, political or religious in character, such as dinner and dance celebrations, networking events or gala dinners, do not fall within this exclusion category.

In other words, holding large-scale, in-person, purely social events have been out of the question.

Yet, there are still companies that are keen on continuing with their D&Ds and annual staff gatherings. That’s particularly as we get into the typical holiday party season for the second Covid-affected year, says Adam Piperdy, founder and chief experience officer at events planning and production firm, Unearthed Productions.

These events are seen as important, and even necessary because they are a great way for companies to celebrate their people, and cap off the year in style, he explains to Chief of Staff Asia.

“It’s an opportunity for them to veer off from their usual meetings, and for top leadership like CEOs or board of directors to thank the staff for all their efforts in the last one year,” Piperdy says. “It’s more about staff recognition than it is about welfare during these annual gatherings.”

This case study is extracted from Chief of Staff Asia's report on Staff Events and Engagement. For further coverage, and access to the full report, please see any of the below links:

The distanced social: How employers are approaching staff events in 2021 full report)

Staff events forced to get creative: Chief of Staff report (news highlight) November 2, 2021

Staff events suffer from the ultimate disruption (feature) November 4, 2021

Taking staff events into the virtual stratosphere (feature) November 8, 2021 Prudential's PLAYful take on virtual staff engagement (case study) November 10, 2021

Will virtual events survive (or thrive) in the new normal? (feature) November 11, 2021

Five tips to elevate your virtual staff event (Tips for HR) November 12, 2021

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