Workplace Holiday Parties: On the Rise or Decline?

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Despite steady corporate growth, businesses cut back on festivities, one survey finds

While nearly 9 in 10 employers plan to throw holiday parties for workers this year, two new surveys disagree on whether the party details reflect more generosity than in years past, or more tight-fistedness.

Eighty-eight percent of companies will have a party this holiday season—down from 96 percent in 2013 and 91 percent in 2012, according to a Battalia Winston survey released Dec. 1, 2014. Battalia Winston is a global executive search firm.

A Dec. 8, 2014, survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., however, found that while a similar percentage of companies will host parties this year, this is—based on past Challenger surveys—a significant rise from the 82 percent who held festivities in 2012 and the 68 percent who did so in 2011.

Both polls acknowledged that overall, companies are turning healthy profits. More than 7 in 10 companies told Battalia Winston that they experienced improved performance in 2014, while 6 in 10 said they expected growth in 2015. Regardless, the executive search firm found that nearly 8 in 10 said they’d refrain from throwing a more lavish party this year than last. In fact, of the companies not holding a holiday party this year, 40 percent cited “budget reasons.”

“Companies became more economical during the recession, and it’s possible that financial restraint, even when it’s not required, will be the new standard,” said Battalia Winston Chairwoman and CEO Dale Winston.

This was Battalia Winston’s 26th annual survey of corporate America’s holiday party plans.

The Challenger, Gray survey was a relatively informal poll of 100 HR executives at companies in various industries and of various sizes. 

Teleworking, Daytime Festivities

The decrease in festivities may also be attributed to an increase in teleworking. Battalia Winston found that a growing number of companies are forgoing parties because their employees work remotely. Its survey found a noticeable increase—from 5 percent in 2013 to 14 percent in 2014—in respondents reporting that a dispersed or remote workforce made holiday parties impractical.

There also appears to be a trend toward daytime parties, especially workplace luncheons, which can be less expensive than offsite dinner parties and involve less drinking of alcohol.

A large percentage (65 percent) of companies plan to hold parties during the workday, the Challenger survey found. The Battalia Winston poll found that a smaller percentage—43 percent—planned lunchtime festivities.

“Holding a party during the day in the office can cut down on costs, and workers will be less likely to over-imbibe” in alcohol, said Colleen Madden Blumenfeld, a media relations manager with Challenger, Gray. “It’s also a good morale booster to basically pay workers to celebrate.”

However, nearly 40 percent of lunchtime office parties will offer adult beverages, the Battalia Winston survey found.

About 7 in 10 companies will limit their guest lists to employees only, as opposed to inviting spouses or other guests, Battalia Winston found. Just over 6 in 10 companies won’t give employees holiday gifts.

Challenger, Gray found that 53 percent of respondents planned to invite only employees to parties this year.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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