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Fewer businesses planning holiday parties

Fewer businesses will hold holiday parties this year than at any time in nearly a quarter-century, according to a survey of corporate America’s holiday party plans.

Photo by Danielle Boddie

Some of the retailers that will not be engaging in the festive fun include the Chicago Michigan Avenue stores for Anthropologie, Guess, Urban Outfitters, Victoria’s Secret, X-Sport Fitness and Levi Strauss & Co., according to an informal telephone survey.

Company holiday parties have been on theirs way out since 2007. Nearly 70 percent of companies still plan to hold holiday parties, about the same as last year, according to an annual survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago based consulting firm.

Those who are having holiday company parties are not going all out for the festivities.

“It’s always the same; we just do the regular things,” said Joseph Colen, a New York resident staying at the Congress Hotel on E. Congress Parkway in the Loop.

The holiday party budget at University of Illinois at Chicago has been cut, said Kimberly Mcgee, a worker at the UIC School of Public Health.

Last year, decorations and food were provided for the employees, but this year the budget will only allow food. So the employees are doing a Christmas-in-July theme this year so decorations won’t be a big deal.

“They’ve asked the employees to wear what they would wear to the beach,” she said. “It won’t look like Christmas time at all in the gym where they hold the Christmas party; it won’t even look like wintertime.”

John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a company press release, that holiday parties don’t have to be full-blown extravaganzas to be meaningful to employees.

“A small company on a tight budget can easily host a potluck lunch, where employees bring in a favorite dish to share with co-worker,” he said in the release.

In some cases, the workers must take their fun into their own hands. “They don’t pay for Christmas parties. The employees can organize a Christmas party on their own dime if interested,” said Jamie Braxton, a government employee.

Brian Rowland, chief executive officer at A Safe Haven, agrees that making the room for a company holiday party is important, even if it is on a smaller scale.

Rowland provides the budget for his employees. They have a Christmas party every year that they never cut budget for. They cut budget for other things throughout the year so they can hold on to their Christmas parties. “We cut a lot of things but not Christmas,” he said.

Others do the holiday company party in a bit of a less conventional way. Matt Howe, who works for a company of 30,000 people, said he does not have the typical party at his place of work. “Individual people send out emails to invite folks to their house,” he said.

Only about 30 percent of companies surveyed are holding their parties on company premises, down from 53 percent of companies who did so a year ago

Photo by Danielle Boddie

Sixty percent of companies are limiting attendance to employees only, perhaps excluding spouses or significant others in an attempt to save on cost.

More than half are holding the party during the workday or near the end of the day, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Tara Bowman, a Macy’s sales associate, is used to having these company parties on the premises—even if it is separated and in many different rooms.

Since Macy’s is such a big department store department separates the Christmas parties.The Christmas parties are located in the different stock rooms and break rooms.

“Macy’s is so busy during the holiday season things can get very chaotic so if we can find the space or clean it up we’ll use it,” Bowman said. The department pays for food and some of the employees bring their own food and we play a little music

“There are no decorations because the whole store is filled with them anyway and there is no designated party time the food is just set out and during break time is when the employees go and eat,” Bowman said.

Rick Neal, who works for IBM, said the company used to have what they called “an underground Christmas party.”

“If anybody got out of hand we would all keep our mouths shut about it,” he said.

James K. Pedderson, director of public relations at Challenger, Gray and Christmas, said companies are split over keeping company parties going.

“For the overworked people who are tired, these parties are a nice time to unwind, but then some people tend to not be into them,” he said. “I think it really boils down to the relationship between the employee and the employer.”

Evan Braun and Danielle Boddie contributed to this story.


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