Over the last few decades, the idea of a long-standing career within a single company has fallen by the wayside. It’s all the more impressive, then, when someone lasts long enough to reach retirement. It’s an achievement worth celebrating. So, when an employee is leaving on good terms, no matter the reason, a good company might throw them a farewell or retirement party. What does a retirement party look like today, though?
People come and people go. In business, the only constant is change, and employees are part of that change.
Over the last few decades, the idea of a long-standing career within a single company has fallen by the wayside. It's all the more impressive, then, when someone lasts long enough to reach retirement. It's an achievement worth celebrating.
Of course, retirement isn't the only reason someone might leave your employ. Other employees might simply leave, either to take time off to raise a family or travel the world, or just to move on to a different job at another company.
Often, while these employees leaving might be detrimental for your company, it's still a great achievement. Career progression is nothing to downplay, and in a company where everyone is at least friendly, if not friends, celebrating one another's achievements can be good for morale.
So, when an employee is leaving on good terms, no matter the reason, a good company might throw them a farewell or retirement party. What does a retirement party look like today, though? In this world of remote work, distributed teams, and pandemic precautions, you can't exactly just take everyone out to a fancy restaurant and call it a day. So, here are our top ideas for farewell parties.
You need some advanced notice and a bit of video editing ability for this one. Have everyone on the team – or at least everyone who is close to, and on good terms with, the retiring team member, make a video. This video should be short, just a few seconds or a minute. In it, the team member tells a happy anecdote, gives praise to working with the coworker, or otherwise says something nice about them.
Take these clips and edit them all together into a tribute video. Then, as part of the farewell party celebrations, screenshare the video with the team. Your departing team member will feel how much of a positive impact they've made on your company, and your team members are given a chance to show how much the retiree has impacted them.
This works best for a long-standing team member, one who has been a frequent mentor and positive force in the workplace. Someone who just kept their head down and did their work without much interaction probably doesn't have as much that can be added to a video like this, but you might consider asking around to see.
This one is, in a way, a variation on the previous montage idea. Talk to team members and have them recount an anecdote or time they interacted positively with the departing employee. They don't need to be videos, though; a short written statement is plenty. Make sure they're anonymized, too.
Throughout the night, play a game with the retiring employee. Read one of the anecdotes, and see if they can guess which team member is the one who wrote it. Some of them will be obvious, memorable, and powerful memories. Others might be just another day of being a good, positive employee or role model, and they may never have known how much impact they had on their coworkers.
In this game, you talk to the departing employee and uncover stories and interesting facts about them. Where was their favorite vacation destination? How many siblings do they have? What was the name of their beloved pet as a child? What's their favorite color?
Then, during the party, you ask these trivia questions and challenge the rest of your workforce to answer them. How well do they know the employee who is leaving?
This works best with long-career retirees and less so for people who have worked with you for four or five years, leaving for a better position. The longer your team has had to get to know the departing worker, the better the game will be. Just be aware that this could backfire; if no one seems to get any of the trivia questions, the departing employee might wonder just how well any of these people actually know them.
What makes your retirement party stand out from the daily stand-up Zoom meetings or video calls you normally participate in? Other than the fact that it's the last one for one of you, and that it's probably taking place at a different time of day? Why not do something to make it stand out?
There are a variety of different kinds of entertainment you can hire as a virtual experience. Some of our favorite options include a stand-up comedian, a live DJ, or a fully-catered pizza party. You can step up the pizza party game by using other services that distribute and coordinate a live experience as well, like a virtual wine tasting. You can, as well, ask the retiring employee what their preferences are in food and entertainment and hire someone according to those preferences.
Another one that works best for a retiree, rather than someone simply leaving to advance their career. Have everyone on the team submit an idea for a bucket list item.
Compile the bucket list and see how many of the suggestions are things the employee has either already done, already has on their bucket list, or might not want to do themselves. To turn it into a game, have the employee try to guess which of their coworkers submitted which idea.
This is another one that requires some preparation ahead of time. Start by telling the team about the impending retirement. Then, get each of the employees on the team to buy a card and/or a small gift. You can offer them a stipend to do this, so they aren't spending their own money, if you want.
Have everyone mail their gift to an appropriate central location, like the head office. The lead manager, or whoever is responsible for arranging everything, then gathers them all up into one package and mails it to the departing employee. If done successfully and early enough, you can even have the employee open the gifts and cards on the video call. Or, you can leave it for later, as a memento or reminder of all the good times they had.
Virtual escape rooms are all the rage today, and there are dozens of them available to challenge individuals and teams alike. You can choose between a video game played online, a guided escape room with a moderator and an assigned time slot, or even just an escape-themed adventure game to play as a group. The options are nearly limitless. For an added bonus, you can even ask the departing employee if they want to pick the game or experience for the team this time around.
Another option that is growing in popularity with teams around the world is virtual tourism. Since the pandemic has shut down a lot of travel and tourism options, but we still all need our vacations, why not take a virtual "trip" together?
Virtual tourism packages typically include a guided tour of an exotic locale, led by a person who lives there themselves. This tour guide livestreams their locale to your Zoom group, takes you to various exotic locations, and shows off the local culture. It's not quite the same as visiting yourself, but with a curated gift package, you can get the sights, tastes, and basics of the experience delivered to everyone on the team.
A roast is a time-honored tradition amongst comedians and celebrities, and it has trickled down into popular culture from there. The idea is to gather a group of people with mutual respect and admiration for a formalized party, where each of the guests takes turns for a minute or three, delivering insults to the recipient. The insults, of course, are over-the-top and extreme but still light-hearted. They stay away from reality and avoid topics like bigotry or real accusations. The goal is comedy, not insults, and if the target walks away truly hurt, then you've done it wrong.
Roasts are very difficult to pull off and require a specific kind of close-knit team to avoid crossing a line. If your team can pull it off, though, they can be a memorable bonding experience like no other.
Sometimes, all you need to have a good time at a retirement party is a shared sense of humor and a platform to showcase it. One of the best in collaborative humor games is the Jackbox Party Packs. Jackbox has eight "party packs" of games, ranging from drawing competitions to stand-up speeches on random topics to vocabulary challenges. The best part is, only one person needs to buy a pack; everyone else can participate by joining the room via the room code system. With the right team, these games can be a great time for everyone.
This is a spinoff of the gift idea. Build a gift package for the retiring employee full of things meant to help them "survive their retirement," whatever that means to you and your team. It can include real helpful items, or joke items, depending on the perspective you want to take. The joke item is perpetually great; after all, what better way to kick-start retirement than with a bundle of essential oils, a fancy pen, or a salt crystal lamp?
If your retiree has been with the company for many, many years, this one is a great choice. Identify the decade they started working for you, and plan a party based around that decade. Have everyone dress up in the fashion in style at the time. Set up a music playlist that reflects the top 40 or greatest hits from that era. Pick snacks representative of the time, and watch one of the blockbusters that topped the charts the year they started. In essence, remind them when they started and how long it's been. Of course, this doesn't work as well for someone who only started a few years ago.
This option is a good one for teams that spend all day on Zoom, though you can use a bot or have someone manually type in a team Slack or Teams chat every hour or so. Basically, just set up a countdown that announces how much time the employee has left before they're "finally free." You can start a week ahead and announce every six hours, ramping up to once an hour for the final twelve, then every ten minutes for the last hour, all the way to a final seconds countdown.
Chances are pretty good that your retiring employee has already done whatever relationship-building they want to do before they depart, but maybe they missed someone, or maybe they didn't think about it until the last minute. So, give them the opportunity to network, schmooze, and gather contact information for the team. Maybe it'll never be used, or only be used for the occasional holiday card, but maybe it will result in long-term friendships outside of work. The point is to provide the opportunity, not to enforce the behavior.
For a final option, well, just be respectful of the wishes of the departing employee. Sometimes, your employee just doesn't want a big deal to be made out of their final day. They want the company to carry on with business as usual, so respect their wishes. Maybe get everyone to sign a card and put together a retirement gift to send them later, but don't make a big deal out of having them open it live on Zoom. Truly, the ultimate gesture in a respectful retirement is asking what the retiree wants and doing that.
These are our favorite retirement party ideas, specifically for virtual and distributed teams. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other ideas out there for in-person teams, but you can find those yourself. Which one is your favorite? Which would you pick? Give it some thought.