The party preparations at information technology consultancy firm SunGard Technology Services began two months ago. With around 2,000 employees at its Pune facility, and 650 in Bangalore, the firm takes the month of December very seriously. After the big annual party that was organized days before Christmas, all eyes are now on the New Year’s bash on 6 January at both locations. The party is supposed to have a lunch for employees, lucky dip and a few other games.

Surprise a friend: Who’s got you a gift?

Come mid-December every year, it’s not unusual for employees to walk up to their human resources (HR) team to ask what’s on for the season. Vikram Samanth, assistant manager, employee relations at Infosys BPO Ltd, says he has been asked this several times so far. “I have four people in employee relations team working with me to make sure that every day before New Year’s is packed with some activity," he says.

The period leading up to New Year’s Day will have small team activities as well. “A lot of BPO workers work in the night shift, as a result of which they feel left out during the year-end celebrations," says T.V. Mohandas Pai, chairperson, Infosys BPO. “So we go all out to make sure there is some kind of activity on all days up to the New Year. This is also the time of highest intensity for the employees relation team who put together these games and parties."

The 14-member team at business process outsourcing (BPO) company 24/7 Customer Pvt. Ltd’s Bangalore facility met several times during 1-10 December to thrash out ideas. “We make an effort to make the Christmas and New Year celebrations different," says Deborah Ephraim, master trainer at the BPO, talking about this year’s theme, “12 days to New Year". The idea is borrowed from the song 12 Days of Christmas and the committee has decided they will have a theme for every day that leads up to New Year’s Eve. Nina Nair, vice-president, HR, adds that they often surprise themselves with the kind of ideas that come out in meetings. “We want to do a puppet show, have stalls and have even had dance classes so people can actively participate in the masquerade ball that we will organize a few days after New Year," says Nair, pointing out the delay is because many people are on leave around New Year’s Day. But it’s not just about that one day. “The real involvement comes from the dance lessons in the lead up. You’ll even find people practising their steps during breaks," says Ephraim.

Internet service provider AOL Online India Pvt. Ltd organized a grand party just before Christmas. “The event had a talent show, a masquerade ball, games, food and everything that would take their minds off their jobs," says Anand Baskaran, head, corporate communications, AOL Online India. Baskaran says that the natural sense of relaxation that comes with the year-end festivities helps in the HR department’s aim to make employees associate fun with the workplace too.

Although most organizations have team-building activities through the year, the year-end, they say, serves to increase the bonding between employees. “We celebrate every festival and employees participate actively, but for some reason it’s during this time that it becomes very emotional. People have even broken down when receiving gifts from their colleagues," says Nair.

Maximum Impact

Here are some games that you can ask your cultural committee to organize at your office party

Secret friend/secret Santa

Every employee picks a name of a fellow employee and floods them with anonymous pleasant notes/gifts during the days leading up to New Year, when the identities are revealed.

Why it works: The anonymity is exciting. Everybody loves gifts. The secret friend has to make an effort to know more about his/her counterpart in order to get the gifts right.

‘Bring your family’ parties

Organize on a weekend leading up to the year-end and include spouses/children/parents.

Why it works: Inclusion of family into the activities of the organization brings a sense of belonging and is likely to result in loyalty.

Talent shows

Ask each team to get together and perform a skit/dance, etc.

Why it works: Once the initial hesitation fades, the team begins to gel. It creates a great sense of bonhomie especially since it involves a combined effort to learn a tune/dance. Performances also attract more watchers ensuring that most employees turn up.

‘Decorate your bay’ competitions

Ask teams to decorate their designated bays in themes of their choice. Pick up current themes, such as the movie ‘Avatar’.

Why it works: Employees take ownership of the area they work in, and relate to those they share the space with. It’s a team activity that increases understanding of one’s colleagues, much like a family decorating the house together.