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Holiday Office Party Comeback: How Start-up Tagged Builds Employee Engagement

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The corporate holiday season is all about the last month push. Whether a company is consumer driven or B2B, the last few weeks of the year mean a great deal in terms of hitting targets and wrapping up all the planning, forecasting and goal setting that occurred throughout the year.

The end of the year also marks an important time when companies can recognize the efforts of their employees. In recent years, however, the idea of an elaborate holiday party seemed like a thing of the past. Gone are the days of concert events with headliner celebrities belting out their hits alongside festooned tents stocked with food and drink as far as the eye could see.

Now it seems a few catered platters and holiday music in the conference room is the best most companies can hope for. But 2013 has been a special year. It has been a year not only of recovery in housing, the stock market, and for jobs, but resurgence in recognizing employee efforts through events to both cheer accomplishments and build social cohesion.

One company that has focused on unique holiday celebrations and broader culture initiatives is Tagged. Founded in 2004, Tagged is a social discovery network based in San Francisco. It allows members to browse the profiles of other members, play games and share tags and virtual gifts. I had a chance to connect with Meg Bolger who handles marketing & communications at Tagged. She described how Tagged uses employee events as a key aspect of their culture and their brand.

Q. What does the holiday celebration mean to Tagged?

A. The Tagged holiday party is a chance for the whole team to come together (spouses, partners and friends included), and celebrate our achievements from the year. Our 2013 holiday party was centered on a roaring 20s theme, complete with rolled cigars and a live jazz band.

We take the opportunity during this season to engage in other fun traditions, such as our end-of-year gatherings for our various internal clubs like Wine Club and Taggenbrau (our homebrewing club), and even a seasonal “crab run,” where we place a big order of fresh crab for interested team members.

We also always look forward to supporting our local “Family Giving Tree” toy drive. This is our fourth year with the program. Last year, Tagged employees provided more than 140 gifts.

Q. Are all Tagged company celebrations elaborate or just the holiday party?

A. Culture is a big deal at Tagged, so we plan lots of fun events throughout the year, not just during the holidays. These events range from small in-office whiskey tastings and impromptu themed happy hours to office-wide volunteer days and the annual Tagged family picnic. It’s not about making our events elaborate, but getting creative and engaging as many team members as possible.

Q. Are such celebrations a strategic mechanism of talent attraction and retention?

A. We think of our events as speaking directly to our quirky, fun culture. We have two full-time “Culture Ninjas” on staff that plan and execute our company events and act as general ambassadors for all things related to culture. Our team members look forward to these events and traditions so we carve out budget and resources to make them happen every quarter.

Q. Do you fear that employees will get spoiled and expect these celebrations versus view them as a perk?

A. There is always a balance to be had when it comes to putting on events so that we don’t get too caught up in the hoopla. As such, we always strive to use our major events as an opportunity to celebrate results and bond as a team, which keeps the focus in the right place. Also, we are always intentional about taking a pulse on our events and garnering feedback in order to tweak our planning accordingly for the next time around.

Q. Can these efforts survive as you scale the company?

A. We have continued to scale these events as we’ve grown over the past few years (in 2010 we were just 50 people, whereas we’re 175 now). The key for us as we grow, is to keep our events and efforts true to our unique Tagged culture.

Q. What advice would you give other companies looking to encourage employee recognition through events?

A. Culture is so important when it comes to building a dedicated team, and we make it a major focus at Tagged. Many of Tagged’s traditions have started organically through celebrations and clubs by our own team members, and that is what makes them so wonderful and unique.

Many companies can learn from Tagged’s experience with events. Most important is that employees have a say in shaping and driving the kinds of events that take place. This helps further the connection to the company and each other, which is exactly what the holidays, and every other workday, is meant to inspire.

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