Fewer companies get in the spirit to throw holiday parties

Almost 60% of the HR managers said alcohol would be served at their holiday party, but some said they’d issue drink tickets to regulate consumption.

Almost 60% of the HR managers said alcohol would be served at their holiday party, but some said they’d issue drink tickets to regulate consumption.

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The silly season is upon us — the holiday rush, the shopping hangover, the December calendar crowded with obligatory holiday parties overloaded with crudités, shrimp cocktail and bad wine.

And so what once might have been viewed as a foreboding sign of corporate distress could sound pretty good this time of year: More companies are saying they just don’t do holiday parties anymore.

Last week, the Society for Human Resource Management released its annual survey about end-of-the-year office fêtes. In it, 30% of the HR professionals who responded said their companies do not usually have year-end parties for all employees.


That’s the largest percentage recorded since the organization started doing the survey in 2009.

More are saying a December sans le soiree is now just business as usual, rather than a blip for the current year because of budget constraints.

This year, only 6% of the managers surveyed said their company had cut back on the office party because of financial challenges, compared with 9% in 2013 and 20% in 2010 and 2009 amid the recession (there was no survey in 2014).

“That stood out to me,” Evren Esen, director of the society’s survey programs, said in an interview. “It may be that they’re not directly relating it to financial challenges, but they did cut it out before and may have felt employees don’t really seem to be missing it.”

Esen said it’ll be interesting to see whether the trend continues. “Maybe it’s one of those things that’s not as appealing to employees anymore,” she said. “Millennial employees may also have different expectations of the workplace and how they want to spend their time at work.”

She noted there could also be concerns about the risks of employees who overindulge in all those passed glasses of cheap Chardonnay.


Although roughly similar numbers of HR managers said they would serve alcohol this year — 59%, down from 61% in 2012, the last time the question was asked — many more said they planned to offer drink tickets to regulate employees’ consumption.

In all, 71% said they were going to take that strategy this year, compared with 57% in 2012.

The survey also found that more HR managers plan to close early on the day of their holiday party (22%, up from 12% in 2012).

And although it’s not surprising that few companies are giving out nonperformance-based holiday bonuses anymore — most companies have moved to merit-based awards — the drop in HR professionals saying they’re giving out Christmas gifts is notable (23%, compared with 32% in 2013).

But whether companies have realized employees might savor one less holiday party obligation, they don’t seem to be loosening the reins on holiday shopping at work.

For the first time, the survey asked about what limits companies place on letting their employees hunt down the latest “Star Wars” gadget or Girl Scout Cookie oven while on their computers at work.


Fully 32% said it wasn’t OK for their workers to do so, even during lunch or breaks, and only 13% said it was acceptable at other times during the workday if an employee’s work was on schedule.

Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.