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Holiday Parties, Version 2009

Although pundits insist the recession is officially over, when it comes to holiday parties, it appears that many companies haven’t gotten the memo.  For many hard-working employees, the best (and perhaps only) 2009 holiday gift from their employers will simply be a continuing paycheck.

According to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas’s annual survey on the topic, frugality remains the holiday theme this year.  Only 62% of companies are planning holiday parties—down from 77% last year and 90% in 2007.  The survey also found that 10% of the companies that held a holiday party last year will cancel them this year due to cost-cutting initiatives.

“The strength of the recovery, or whether we are even in recovery, is still unclear, said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.  “Companies are postponing major investments, hiring initiatives, and many other expenses, including holiday parties.  For companies that have recently announced layoffs or other significant cost-cutting measures, such as wage freezes, it would be difficult to justify, let alone get in the mood for a holiday party,”

The Challenger holiday party survey was conducted in October among approximately 100 human resource executives in a wide variety of industries nationwide. 

Another possible holiday downer is the threat of swine flu (H1N1).  “Even companies going ahead with parties may find plans thwarted by H1N1 outbreaks within their workforces,” continued Challenger.  “The number of cases is spreading quickly and employers that have not been impacted may decide that it is too risky to gather large groups of employees together in a social setting.”

Some additional survey results, for those companies who will have a holiday party this year:

  • 64% will spend the same amount on the party as last year
  • 64% will invite employees only
  • 43% will hold the party during the workday or at the end of the workday
  • 57% will serve alcohol (interestingly, up from 48% in 2008)

If your company does give a holiday party this year, whether on or offsite, simple potluck or lavish catered dinner, some basic rules apply.  For starters, never forget the “office” part of “office party.”  Conduct yourself professionally at all times and you won’t go wrong.

Here are some tips, from business etiquette expert Lydia Ramsey (www.mannersthatsell.com) to ensure that you’ll still be gainfully employed the morning after the party:

• What should you wear?  If the event is immediately after work, business attire is appropriate.  If the party is later in the evening or on the weekend, your choices will vary depending on the type of event.  If you aren't certain what to wear, check directly with your host or with co-workers whose taste and judgment you trust. Make sure that what you wear reflects well on you professionally. (This is not the time to show up in your most revealing outfit).

• How long should you stay?  You should remain at the event for at least an hour or you will give the impression that your appearance was merely obligatory.  With a large crowd, interact with as many people as possible, especially the key people, including your boss. If your invitation was from 5 to 7, don't stay one minute past 7 o'clock. You don't want to be thought of as part of the clean-up crew—unless that is the next job you want to have.

• What should you talk about?  It's not what you have to say; it's about what other people have to say. The trick is to allow other people to talk.  Plan ahead with some good open-ended questions and you won't have any trouble with conversations. The best conversation starter is, "Tell me about..." You can then continue with, "That's interesting. Tell me more."

• How much should you eat and drink?  Whether the event is a reception with light hors d'oeuvres or a full buffet, moderation is the key.  You are there for the fellowship, not the food.  Alcohol and business rarely mix well, so do limit how much you drink. This is an opportunity to build business relationships and to promote yourself, so you will want to keep your wits about you.

Finally, remember that although you do not want to draw any negative attention to yourself, the office party is the perfect occasion to mingle with upper level executives and to make a favorable impression on them.  “Employees should not simply stand in the corner in an effort to stay off the radar,” advised Challenger.  It is equally important to remember that these events also offer great opportunities, such as socializing with senior executives who you do not interact with on a daily basis.  Make an effort to break away from your comfort zone and introduce yourself to those who might help your career.”

About the Author(s)

Shari Lifland is Editorial Communications Manager for American Management Association.  She is editor of the eNewsletters "Moving Ahead," "Management Update," and "Administrative Excellence," and manages content for the Members-only section of AMA's Website.