Holiday Parties—with Strings Attached

At-office events, fewer end-of-year bonuses save money

By Dana Wilkie Dec 4, 2013

As companies hold holiday parties this year, almost one in 10 will ask workers to pay for guests, 45 percent won’t allow guests at all, and 10 percent will ask employees to bring food, decorate, buy tickets, give money or otherwise contribute to the festivities, according to a new survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

About two in three companies will throw holiday or end-of-year parties. Forty-two percent will hold their gatherings during business hours, while smaller organizations (those with 1 to 499 workers) are more likely to host bashes for all employees than those with 500 or more workers.

“It would be very expensive for large companies to find a venue to accommodate all their employees plus the cost of food and drinks,” noted Evren Esen, manager of SHRM’s Survey Research Center. “In those large organizations, I would imagine that parties do take place within departments [and] business units.”

SHRM surveyed 817 randomly selected members Oct. 17-30, 2013.

Financial Constraints

Financial challenges continue to take a toll on end-of-year office parties, but not like they did at the height of the recent recession.

The percentage of companies that stopped having such get-togethers for all workers because of financial challenges decreased steadily from a high of 20 percent in 2009 to 8 percent in 2011. The past two SHRM surveys indicate that organizations continue to save money by doing away with all-employee holiday parties—with 10 percent doing so in 2012 and 9 percent planning the same in 2013.

Companies also continue to cut expenses by moving their party venues from hotels and restaurants to the office, although they’re doing this less frequently. Notably, in 2009, 15 percent of organizations moved their year-end bashes onsite because of financial constraints, but in 2013 just 4 percent will do the same.

Overall, 60 percent of companies will hold their events at hotels or other out-of-office locations this year, which is similar compared with the past three years.

“I think this shows that companies are still being cautious with their expenditures [and] budgets,” Esen said. “Gatherings are easy to keep low-cost if everyone chips in. The main point is to be together in a fun environment.”


While charitable giving outside the workplace is increasing, giving in the office is either on the rise or the decline, depending on how you look at it.

More than three in four companies (78 percent) will participate in end-of-year charitable drives such as Toys for Tots, winter-coat donations and the like in 2013, compared with 74 percent in 2012.

Yet, while nearly one in three organizations (30 percent) said they gave nonperformance-based bonuses to all employees at the end of 2012, only 19 percent said they plan to do this in 2013.

Company prizes such as gift cards and hams have remained steady: In 2012, 14 percent of organizations said all employees were given end-of-year gifts, compared with 15 percent in 2013.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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