What to do About the Holiday Office Party

Here’s a guest post by regular Great Leadership contributor Eileen Habelow:

The holidays are back, but the economy is still making its way – What to do about the holiday office party

It’s that time of year again. Time to start planning for gifts, employee vacation time and don’t forget, the holiday office party. Every year these management issues come up for debate, especially around whether or not to host the annual holiday party. The question arises: Does anyone really enjoy the holiday party?

Oftentimes the answer is yes. However, since the recession, personal finances and company budgets have become increasingly more of a concern for employees and management alike. What used to be a yearly holiday tradition may be perceived more as a luxury or even an improper use of limited funding and increased attention to unemployment rates. A focus on employee engagement and morale is absolutely critical in difficult times, but it’s difficult for managers to know when money is being well spent and when money is being wasted on outdated proprieties. And, a lot of that has to do with how the spending is perceived by the workforce.

In an effort to provide office leadership with some direction this season, Randstad conducted a survey of employee attitudes around the holidays. This is what we found:

• 93 percent of employees would rather have a bonus than a holiday office party

• Nearly one-third (29 percent) of employees think a holiday party is inappropriate during these economic times

What does this mean for company leadership? Although the holiday office party may be an annual company tradition, it may not be what some companies need most this year. While holiday parties often boost morale, they can have the opposite effect if they are unwelcomed or even resented by the workforce.

If your company is debating whether or not to host a holiday party this year, it may be prudent to take a step back and view it from your employees’ perspective. Has your company been through a series of layoffs this year? Have raises, promotions and bonuses been put on hold? If so, consider what message a holiday party might send to your employees and whether funds could be spent in better ways, or even saved.

Taking into account employee demographics may also help in the decision-making process. Although most prefer a bonus over a party, the majority of Gen Y and Millennials (83 percent) view the office holiday party as a morale builder and as a reward for hard work (80 percent). For companies made up of mostly young professionals and those that have been hit less hard by the recession, a holiday party may still be the perfect end-of-year gift. This is especially true if your company can afford both a party and an annual bonus.

In contrast, companies employing mostly older professionals (55 and over) may want to consider an alternative gift. Older employees, who are often more financially and professionally established, were more likely (59 percent) to wish holiday party funds be donated to a charity instead of spent on a party.

Whatever your company decides, keep in mind that as the economy fluctuates so do employee attitudes on spending. What may be the right choice this year may be different next year. Remind employees that this year’s decision is not a set-in-stone tradition and that feedback and ideas for next year are always welcome.

Eileen Habelow, Ph.D., is the Senior Vice President of Organizational Development with Randstad, a global provider of HR solutions and staffing.