Holiday Parties: Inappropriate or Morale Booster?

By SHRM Online staff Dec 6, 2010
A smaller percentage of leading U.S. businesses are throwing holiday parties in 2010 than in 2009 and 2008 when the U.S. was in the throes of the recession, according to Amrop Battalia Winston’s Annual Survey on Corporate Holiday Celebrations.

While Amrop Battalia Winston says fewer companies are planning a holiday party than at any other time in the survey’s 22-year history, the drop is slight—from 81 percent in 2008 and 2009 to 79 percent in 2010. That means more than three-fourths of companies surveyed still plan on throwing some kind of holiday bash for workers.

And the Bureau of National Affairs Inc. (BNA) found an upswing in 2010 in the percentage of U.S. companies planning companywide holiday celebrations. Seventy-six percent of 300 HR professionals and employee relations executives surveyed said their company will have some sort of year-end party, up 9 percentage points from 2009, when it hit a 10-year low of 67 percent. BNA has conducted its holiday practices survey for more than two decades.

A Society for Human Resource Management online survey of more than 380 HR professionals in 2010 found the percentage of employers holding holiday or end-of-year parties in 2010 unchanged from 2009, at 61 percent. The majority of employer holiday parties will be off-site, SHRM found.

Among companies not holding year-end celebrations, Amrop Battalia Winston found, only 27 percent cited budgetary concerns as the reason. More than half don’t think a party is appropriate under current economic conditions, the survey found.

Pick-Me-Up Needed

Putting a freeze on company holiday parties or other celebrations is a mistake, says Bob Kelleher, CEO of The Employee Engagement Group and author of Louder Than Words: 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps That Drive Results (BKLB Publishing, 2010).

“During recessionary times when companies are cutting back and laying off employees, the survivors need a pick-me-up more than ever,” he said in a news release.

A party at the end of the year is a good way for an employer to show its appreciation to employees, Kelleher said.

And workers are stressed.

A 2010 ComPsych Corp. survey of more than 1,000 employees from its client companies found that 68 percent are highly stressed. They’re feeling extremely tired, out of control and worried—mostly about job security.

“As the holiday shopping season begins, employees are trying to balance the urge to spend with the worry that they will [lose] their job,” said ComPsych's chairman and CEO, Richard A. Chaifetz, Psy.D., a licensed neuropsychologist, in a news release. “We increasingly get calls from employees who are struggling to manage their daily expenses. On top of that, they are now faced with gift-giving costs.”

The parties don’t have to be lavish. In fact, expensive shindigs will be a rarity in 2010, Amrop Battalia Winston found. Most companies (61 percent) will hold parties at the same level as years past, and more than one-fourth of employers are planning a celebration that is more modest than their 2009 party. More than two-thirds of employers will limit attendees to employees; only 26 percent will allow employees’ families.

Kelleher suggests other ways employers can scale down an end-of-year party, including by:

  • Making it an in-office celebration that welcomes family members.
  • Participating in a group volunteer activity.
  • Hosting an active or theme party such as bowling.
  • Visiting a museum together.
  • Hosting an outdoor winter fest.

There’s only so much economizing an organization can do when it comes to holiday parties, observed Dale Winston, CEO of Amrop Battalia Winston. “If parties become any more modest, there will not be any parties. You can only downsize so far,” he said in a news release.

Organizations that plan to have a party said they are celebrating the good year they had in 2010. Boosting morale and demonstrating to clients and employees the optimism they have about 2011 were the second and third most common reasons organizations gave for having a party.

Winston predicts that more organizations will host holiday parties in 2011 “as the U.S. economy gets a stronger foothold in the recovery.”

Related Article:

Don’t Be Spooked by Holiday Parties, HR News, Oct. 25, 2010


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job

Apply by October 19

Get recognized as an HR expert. Earn your SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP certification, and set yourself apart.

Apply Now


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect