When Workers Stand You Up at the Holiday Party

HR professionals suggest ways to ensure companies don’t waste time or money on no-shows

By Dana Wilkie Nov 7, 2017
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​It probably happens at most company holiday parties: A few workers RSVP yes—for themselves or even a plus-one—but they never show.

That means, in many cases, that the company has bought food that will not be eaten, drinks that will not be consumed, prepaid parking spots that will remain empty and perhaps even hotel rooms that won't host any guests.

One Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) member recently took to a SHRM Connect online discussion to ask colleagues what they do in such instances.

"We are sending out our invites for our holiday party this week, and the president of our organization would like to include some verbiage about individuals who sign up to go and then don't end up showing up to the event," wrote the SHRM member, who asked that her name not be used. "Due to the expense involved with securing food and space for those that RSVP, he wants to charge individuals who say they will be there but then don't end up coming to the event. I'm struggling to come up with some verbiage which will explain this without disengaging or discouraging employees from coming to the event. Has anyone else included anything like this on their holiday party invites?"

Turns out that, yes, other HR professionals have run into the same problem.

Martha Perea, SHRM-SCP, is vice president of human resources at Caltech Employees Federal Credit Union. She wrote on SHRM Connect that at a previous job, her team asked all those who planned to attend the holiday party to submit a check covering the costs for themselves and their guests. Those who showed up to the party were handed an envelope that included their uncashed check, raffle tickets, drink tickets and a $100 bill as a Christmas gift.

As those who didn't show up? The company cashed their checks.

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"You could say something about wanting to ensure that, while the organization would love to continue to sponsor these types of employee events, there are a lot of lost funds due to no-shows," Perea wrote.

In an interview with SHRM Online, Perea noted that when workers say they'll come to a holiday party but then don't, the company can lose money because it buys more food than it needs or books a party space that's too large. Sometimes companies pay for activities based on the number of people they expect will show up. The company may have to eat the cost of hotel rooms it reserved if the party is held far from the worksite.

"There may be food and beverage minimums that need to be reached, so you may have to pay more if your count goes below the minimum," Perea said. "Prepaid parking might be another cost. Also, if you provide a special gift to those who attend, you may have lost costs there.

"And if employees RSVP for a guest, it doubles the cost." 

In her SHRM Connect post, Perea warned that if an HR department adopts the approach that her previous company did, "you will get some backlash," as well as excuses "like … my kid was sick." 

"The first year is always tough, but once they get used to it, you should be fine," Perea wrote. "Definitely communicating the reason why and expressing your commitment to wanting to host a memorable event for them helps."

Jennifer Weber is an HR assistant with Enertech Global LLC, a geothermal manufacturer based in Greenville, Ill. She told SHRM Online that each year, invariably there are workers who don't show up after saying they'll be attending a party or other event.

"It usually happens with each company event, and tends to be the same people year after year," she said.

 Weber attributed this behavior to poor planning or employees trying to keep their options open.

 "I think employees see the notice for an upcoming company event and sign up right away without first checking their schedules or [checking] with their families," she said. "Sometimes they will sign up right away, and then … they back out as other things come up. Also, I think they sign up right away as they don't want to miss out on anything, or so they can be counted for food totals so there's enough food in case they decide they do want to show up."

Employees started being more considerate, she said, after the company included a line in its party invitations asking workers to refrain from signing up unless they were certain they could attend.

"We try to make them aware to only sign up if they know for sure they are coming, as the company has to eat the cost of the food, even if they do not attend," she said. "So far, this has been working for us."  

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