Thursday 18 July 2019

Demise of office party greatly exaggerated

Roisin Burke

The crunch might be pinching ahead of the Christmas festivities but, it would seem, that news of the death of the Christmas party has been greatly exaggerated.

There are some exceptions this year: senior staff at Penneys said there will be no group Christmas party this year.

Investment bank Merrill Lynch is said to have called off all Christmas parties as per its US bosses. TV3, with its recent round of staff cuts, is having a scaled-back affair while some firms are shelving party plans until next year. One advertising agency is donating its Christmas party budget to charity.

But it's not all grinchville. Top-of-the-range venues like Chapter One and Thornton's say they are as heavily booked as any other year with Christmas party business.

In fact, Chapter One increased its prices for the month of December despite the current economic climate.

"There's been very little difference this year to other years -- we're booked Thursday through to Saturday from November 27, and I could have booked the same amount of tables three times over if I had the space," said one top-end restaurant manager.

In addition, sales managers at the big hotels claim their Christmas bookings are as good as ever, but the discounts and offers available at many of them tell a different story.

RTE communications' spokeswoman Caitriona Edwards said that there were no subsidies for Christmas parties this year "given the economic context".

Usually each division would have its own RTE-subsidised bash, but with €20m worth of cuts in the offing this year staff will be shelling out themselves if they want to party.

"People are wary of having the names of the fat cat restaurants on their expense receipts -- it's just not being tolerated and it's just not cool anymore," said one technology company manager.

"We are having a budget-style Christmas party -- a casino-style night out organised by management -- no event managers this year, no fancy hotel," a manager from a large US multinational, where staff cuts have occurred, said.

"This year everyone is so fed up with the company that human resources has had to write to people managers to get them to rope in their direct reports for the party."

Banks are also taking the frugal approach. "The amount of spend per person has been capped to a far more modest spend than in the past, reflecting the current climate," said Anne Mathews of Bank of Ireland. "After that it is up to individual branches or departments to make their own arrangements."

But some companies take a different view: the Christmas party is a necessary reward and a morale booster.

"Our people are our greatest asset and we require the very best talent to help our clients through the current difficult times," said Carmel O'Connor, human relations executive with PricewaterhouseCoopers Ireland.

While the credit crunch may have speeded up the process, the nature of the corporate Christmas do was already undergoing change, and the recession is a great excuse for some bosses to usher in that change.

A large medical device company banned company parties some years back when the incidence of drunken misbehaviour became too much of a liability, while a big drinks industry name reined in its legendary, all-staff parties after one intoxicated employee drove his car into a wall, post-party.

Many other companies are following suit.

The corporate Christmas party is still alive and well but, for one reason or another, staff may find themselves paying their way to party in the future.

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