Company holiday parties tamed, not dead

SUNDAY, NOV. 28, 2010

WICHITA, Kan. — Set out the canapes. Pour the champagne. Holiday parties continue as a tradition at many companies despite the hard times, though they’re often smaller and more subdued.

Many companies canceled parties in 2009 to cut costs and signal that managers weren’t spending frivolously amid layoffs.

Some say the number of parties is actually up this year from last, and others say they’re down. But a couple of things are clear: The number of people at the parties remains way down from 2008, and the parties this year promise to be less expensive. They may be held in a home rather than at a restaurant; potluck instead of catered; beer instead of liquor.

Nationally, a recent Society for Human Resource Management survey showed that 61 percent of employers were planning on a holiday party this year, the same as in 2009.

Some companies are saying a party this year is even more important than in earlier years. Everybody is stressed out, employers say, and this is a way for companies to express appreciation to those who remain.

Ad agency Sullivan Higdon & Sink has a winter celebration in the weeks after Christmas, but times were pretty glum in early 2009 after some big accounts left or cut back. The agency cut staff. Business has improved a bit since then, said managing partner Sam Williams.

“What we have learned is that good people are really hard to find, and even in hard times when you have to make hard decisions, you have to make sure you take care of them,” Williams said. “It is a tool to get together outside of the office, enjoy each other’s company and say thank you.”

Wichita aerospace supplier Cox Machine didn’t have a Christmas party last year. The staff voted to donate the money to United Way as a way to contribute to a community in pain.

This year, after landing its biggest contract ever, the company will have a party – as well as continue its employee donations to United Way, said Sara Carpenter, the company’s human resources manager.

This year, they’re headed to a comedy club for some barbecue and jokes, Carpenter said.


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