Time-honored tradition changing

An ongoing rebound from the recession and expected growth in 2015 are no reason for celebration, according to the annual survey of corporate America's holiday party plans conducted by Battalia Winston, a leading global executive search firm.

The survey, now in its 26th year, reports that only 88% of companies polled will have a party this holiday season: down from 96% in 2013 and 91% in 2012.

Is the dip in parties the result of a recession mentality, similar to what we saw in the post-Great Depression years? Battalia Winston Chairwoman and CEO, Dale Winston, thinks so. "Companies became more economical during the recession, and it's possible that financial restraint, even when it's not required, will be the new standard."

The dramatic decrease is particularly unexpected considering that respondents: senior leadership from companies across the nation: indicate that their companies are performing very well. Over 60% of respondents said their company was on track to grow and hire in 2015, and nearly 25% said their company's size would remain consistent. Only 7% of companies expect to consolidate next year. Furthermore, 58% of companies said that even though their business had grown since 2013, their parties would not be any more lavish than last year.

The decrease could also be attributed to a continued increase in teleworking. The survey found that a growing number of companies are foregoing parties because their employees work remotely. There was a noticeable increase: from 5% to 14%: in respondents reporting that a dispersed or remote workforce made holiday parties impossible.

The renewed sense of frugality extends beyond the party budget. About 70% of businesses will limit the guest list to employees only (no spouses or guests), and 62% of companies will decline from giving their employees a holiday gift.

While companies continue to participate in charitable giving during the holiday season, high-performing companies aren't being any more generous than their struggling counterparts: 65% of both consolidating and growing companies are donating to charity, and about 15% of both groups will participate in company-sponsored volunteer activities.

Key Survey Findings

Business is Up, but parties are flat. Nearly 79% of companies will refrain from throwing a more lavish party this year, even though 72% experienced improved performance in 2014 and 60% expect growth in 2015.

A comparison of companies that consolidated versus those that grew in 2014 shows that both groups are having similar types of parties, despite the performance differences. About 50% of both groups plan to have their party at a restaurant. A slightly higher percentage of consolidating companies plan to have their party at the office (25%, as compared to 18% of growing companies). While fewer consolidating companies are serving alcohol, the difference is not overwhelming: 73% of growing companies versus 65% of consolidating companies.

Budget choices: not economic climate: prevent parties. Of the 18% of companies not holding a holiday party this year, 40% cited "budget reasons." Nearly 14% said that employees were not interested in a party, while only 5% said that they thought having a party was inappropriate because of the economic times, a drastic dip from 2013, when 50% of party-foregoers said that a celebration would be inappropriate.

The daytime party trend holds steady. Of the companies holding parties, 56% will celebrate in the evening, while 43% will celebrate at lunch. The trend toward lunchtime parties continues (43% in 2012 and 47% in 2013).

Bottoms up! Day drinking is on the rise. Similar to years past, drinks will be served at 73% of parties (up just 1% from 2013), while some companies continue to abstain (27%). However, many companies will be participating in some day drinking this year, with nearly 40% of lunchtime office parties offering adult beverages.

Companies will use non-pay incentives to boost morale. A majority of companies (61%) are taking steps to boost employee morale in the year to come, down just 5% from 2013, but most (over 50%) are using non-pay incentives to do so, i.e. offering flexible schedules, training and team building, and public performance recognition. Only 14% said they would give pay raises.

Summary

Last year, after two consecutive years of more than 90% of companies having holiday parties, Battalia Winston asked if throwing holiday parties was returning to a regular part of corporate life. The data this year indicates that corporate leaders are resetting expectations, says Dale Winston: "The high percentage of holiday parties in 2012 and 2013 was a signal that the economy was rebounding, but now that growth has been steady for a few years, companies are reestablishing a baseline. A successful year and a normal rate of growth are becoming the norm, not an anomalous event that calls for a lot of hoopla."

The 2014 Battalia Winston nationwide survey was conducted among a cross-section of 114 companies.