Party hearty or hardly party?

December 9, 2010
By: Vicki Bell

Last week global outplacement and business coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported the results of its 2010 Holiday Party Survey. The findings indicate that as a growing number of companies benefit from a slowly improving economy, there are indications that workplace holiday parties are starting to make a comeback. However, with the bitter taste of cost-cutting measures still fresh in employees' minds, some companies appear to be keeping festivities relatively subdued.

According to the survey, 64 percent of companies are planning holiday parties this year, up slightly from 62 percent a year ago. About four percent of those holding parties this year are doing so after one or more years with no party due to the recession. 

Commenting on the report, Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John A. Challenger said, "We are at a precarious stage in the recovery, where some companies are feeling it more than others. Many companies are still struggling. The corporate holiday party scene is going to vary greatly across the country and in different industries. New York City, in general, is rebounding faster than many other major cities, so parties there might be pretty extravagant. Tech companies on the west coast are also doing well. But, overall, we are probably still a year or more away from a widespread return to the types of festivities held prior to the recession." 

In interviews with human resource professionals, Challenger found that some companies are still feeling the effects of the recession. Several indicated that they are still having parties, but noted that the parties would be fairly simple. 

According to a poll on, almost 12 percent of respondents said their companies are not doing anything to celebrate this year. However, almost 26 percent said theirs would go all out — "outside locale with open bar, dancing, nuttiness ensuing." 

I began working for my current employer a couple of weeks before Christmas in 1998. I was still learning the business and my co-workers' names when I attended a very nice luncheon at a very nice restaurant. My employer had reserved a room for the festivities, which included singing, pixie gift exchanges, quite an extensive drawing for not-too-shabby prizes, and Christmas bonus checks for those who had been with the company for more than a year. I was in awe of the event and thinking I'd caught the brass ring in landing my new job. 

A year later, I had relocated to the "southern branch" of the company (more about that later), and my employer flew me back to participate in a repeat of the annual Christmas celebration. Plenty of holiday cheer all around. 

If memory serves me correctly, the tradition continued the next year, but I did not attend. Family obligations precluded me from making the trip. Then things began to change. The economic downturn of 2000 was followed by September 11, 2001. I remember FABTECH in November 2001 like it was yesterday — the somber mood of a nation in mourning; the fear of more terrorist attacks for those of us who had to fly to Chicago; and concern over what effects the downturn and the attacks would have on our industry and the show. Though shell-shocked, those of us at the event knew we had to persevere and try to maintain some sort of normalcy in the face of surreal conditions. I don't remember there being any Christmas party that year, but thoughts of such frivolity were not uppermost in my mind. Most likely, that was the year that the company began its onsite food days and open house that have become our holiday celebration mainstays. 

In the past few years, the southern branch of the company has doubled in size, from one employee to two. Because my colleague Tim and I will not be participating in the food days and our departmental luncheon, we met for lunch the other day. We talked about family, upcoming travel plans, common interests, and work. And we both acknowledged how grateful we are to still have jobs when so many have lost theirs — something I celebrate mentally every day, even on very challenging days. 

As of this writing, 70 percent of respondents to a poll currently running on said their companies are not having parties this year. Manufacturing has been hit hard by the recession, and fabricators have struggled to remain afloat. Although hopeful that conditions will improve in the coming year, many are reluctant to drag their boogie shoes out of storage and let the nuttiness ensue. I don't blame them. Maybe next year?

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Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209