The annual holiday party may be returning to many organizations -- after a few years' absence -- but some experts say there are cheaper and more effective ways to spread holiday spirit than by hosting an expensive event.
Just like any number of hip fashion trends, it looks like holiday parties are coming back into vogue this season.
In its annual survey on holiday parties, Chicago-based outplacement and business-coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. found that 68 percent of approximately 100 human resource professionals say their organizations are planning holiday parties this year, up six points from last year.
That's a bit more than the results of a CareerBuilder survey, which found slightly more than half (52 percent) of employersare planning holiday parties, up from 49 percent the year before.
The Challenger survey also found that 6 percent of the employers plan to spend more this year on the party than in the past, while 18 percent will spend less than last year. According to Chicago-based CareerBuilder, 70 percent will spend the same this year as in previous years.
"We are at a precarious stage in the recovery, where some companies are feeling it more than others," says John A. Challenger, CEO of his firm. "Many companies are still struggling. The corporate holiday-party scene is going to vary greatly across the country and in different industries. ... 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."
Of the companies holding parties, the Challenger survey found 53 percent celebrating on company premises, up from 29 percent in 2009.
Wherever the party is held, "there is a common perception that corporate holiday parties are raucous affairs where managers and their workers can cut loose," he says. "In reality, however, corporate parties can merely add another layer of stress to workers, who have to worry about getting too relaxed and saying or doing something that might offend a supervisor.
"Some employees would just as soon skip the holiday party in favor of an extra paid vacation day or a little extra money in their year-end paycheck," he says.
Bob Kelleher, CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based The Employee Engagement Group, and author of Louder Than Words: 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps That Drive Results, disagrees.
He says employees need such celebrations and that organizations that cut holiday parties during the downturn did so at their own peril.
"This was a mistake," he says. "During recessionary times, when companies are cutting back and laying off employees, the survivors need a pick-me-up more than ever."
For a more effective -- and cost-effective -- event, Kelleher suggests organizations hold in-office holiday celebrations, and invite employees' families to attend.
"Family involvement creates a more community-focused work environment and shows the employee you care about them as people," he says.
Meanwhile, Cary Chessick, president and CEO of Restaurant.com, an Arlington Heights, Ill.-based incentives provider, says the recession prompted his organization to compile a Top Ten list of budget-friendly activities that HR professionals can use to acknowledge staff productivity and promote employee satisfaction this holiday season.
The list includes events such as providing free, in-house flu shots, organizing a food drive for a local charity and instituting something called "holiday half-days."
"While work schedules may be tight, allowing qualifying employees the opportunity to take a half-day of their choosing off during the holiday season is an easy way to reward hard-working staff without requiring additional out-of-pocket expenses," says Chessick.
According to the CareerBuilder survey, one-third of employers plan to give workers holiday bonuses this year, up from 29 percent in 2009, and nearly three in 10 (29 percent) plan to give holiday gifts to employees, up from 26 percent the year before.
About two-thirds (65 percent) of the organizations will spend the same for gifts as in previous years. Six percent do not plan any gifts, even though they have in years past, according to the survey.
Rosemary Haefner, vice president of HR at CareerBuilder, says nearly half of the employers (45 percent) will be making charitable donations this year -- at either the same amount or more than in previous years.
"Many employers are financially in a better place this season," she says, "and recognize the positive impact holiday perks can have on office morale."