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VOL. 36 | NO. 49 | Friday, December 07, 2012

Survey shows 44% planning holiday parties

By Vincent Troia

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It’s not too late

It is not too late to throw a holiday party before Dec. 25.

Invite people now, and plan to have about 20 percent decline or not show up. Online invitation sites (such as Evite.com) help you avoid delays with mailing invites and awaiting RSVP responses.

RED Spirits+Wine, Perl Catering and others need just a few days to fulfill your food and drink orders. Still, sooner is always better.

Other ideas, according to the National Federation of Independent Business, include hosting a party around a football bowl game such as the Music City Bowl or the Super Bowl, organize a group activity such as paintball, put on a breakfast or lunch party, volunteer as an office team.

When it comes to asking workers if they favor a company holiday party, well, do you really have to ask?

In a 2011 Forbes survey, employees overwhelmingly preferred cash bonuses, pay raises, paid time off and grocery gift cards (or dollar-value perks). Only 5% of employees said they’d prefer a holiday party, according to the survey, which polled more than 2,000 employees.

Creative Group, a division of Robert Half International and a global leader in professional staffing and consulting services, this year reports 44 percent of senior managers surveyed said their employer is holding a holiday celebration. In 2005, a similar survey showed 73 percent of employers planned a party.

The reason for this minimal merriment can be traced to the economic woes of the last few years. Companies are keeping an eye on the bottom line – especially those that have had to shrink staffs. Champagne, live music and ice sculptures would be considered extravagant anytime; during an economic downturn it looks like excessive spending.

“If you had to lay off or let people go, it would not be right to have a party. It would look bad,” says Ed Fryer, co-owner of RED Spirits+Wine in Bellevue. “But there are a lot of reasons why the traditional office party has all but disappeared.”

‘Heartfelt’ celebrations

Fryer and others have a laundry list of issues that have prompted companies to shelve office parties, including more-than-moderate alcohol consumption, conflicting religious views, threats of sexual impropriety, disproportionate gift giving.

On the other side, the overwhelming reason cited by employers for throwing a party was to boost employee morale.

“You can’t be a Scrooge forever,” remarked one New York CEO to the Huffington Post. “It’s not that business is booming; it’s just that [firms] don’t want to keep skimming everything down.”

The Creative survey showed that close to a third of company festivities were going to be held in the workplace, few were allowing spouses or children, nearly half of the parties were planned during lunch hours and many would not include alcoholic beverages.

Well, so much for boosting morale.

“These parties have to be heartfelt,” Fryer says. “Sure they got excessive before political-correctness kicked in (Fryer remembers selling multiple cases of $40-$100 bottles of wine a decade ago).

“But if employers honestly made a heartfelt gesture to spend some money on their staffs during the holidays, I think those dedicated and overworked people would be more apt to give back to their employers in terms of production.”

These gatherings can be more than just rewards for employees, who have seen scant pay increases and limited cash bonuses in recent years, let alone watching health care, education and food costs rise.

They offer a rare opportunity to get to know managers and coworkers on a personal level in a more relaxed environment.

Catering for today’s economy

If not done as a traditional holiday gathering, businesses can plan inexpensive, cheerful get-togethers to celebrate recent successes. Also, hosting casual, nondenominational events can help to keep staffs motivated – especially if they are held away from the office.

“I believe companies should hold private events out of their work environment if they want to form stronger relationships with the staffs,” says Elizabeth Spinelli, co-owner of Nashville’s Perl Catering, which this week opened a new Bellevue location.

Along with chef Robert Spinelli, Elizabeth has catered both in-office and off-site company functions and thinks the more successful ones are those held in private venues.

While companies are scaling down event spending, going the veggie tray, cheese cubes and crackers route can appear wasteful if trays of food go uneaten.

Spinelli says good caterers are those that can work large and small events, crafting them to the attendees.

“We are not the typical caterer,” Spinelli says. “We can customize the menu to accommodate everyone, hopefully.”