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Blog : Mistletoe and Whine?


Mistletoe and Whine?

By Caroline White,  Support Coordinator -talent toolbox


Bah hum bug! What has happened to the age-old tradition of the work Christmas party?

Known as the highlight of the working year, these annual officially sanctioned occasions for frivolity are apparently being killed off by the recession. The effect of these austere times has meant even Her Majesty The Queen has cut her employees ‘bash’ due to financial restrictions. In a recent survey by Pitney Bowes  it was revealed that almost half of small and medium sized businesses are not going to have a party this year either.  Furthermore for those companies who are proceeding with festivities there will be no increase in budget. 91% of the businesses that are having a party in 2011 are going to spend the same (or less) than last year.

There are plenty of reasons to not have a Christmas party; the uncertain economic climate being the main one. Other reasons include health and safety, promotion of binge drinking and inappropriate behaviour. A survey by Contract Law found that nearly a third of employees had received unwelcome advances at a Christmas party - of which 15% were made by a more senior member of the team. The Guardian newspaper recently referred to Christmas parties as “ the annual officially sanctioned opportunity for shame and ignominy .”

Despite these reasons, 63% of people questioned knew that the cancelling the Christmas party is damaging to employee morale. According to Dr Jenny Cole, a lecturer in Social Psychology from Staffordshire University, a touch of festive merry-making is definitely not a bad thing. Aided by a mince pie and a couple of mulled wines, people tend to let their hair down and treat their colleagues to a glimpse of the real them leading to much-improved team-cohesion.

During such challenging economic times, when there are few pay rises and there is extra pressure on employees to perform, it has been found that Christmas parties have a key role to play in motivating employees. Phil Orford, chief executive of the Forum of Private Business, an organisation dedicated to  guiding  its members through this difficult credit crisis and recession, emphatically states that Christmas parties are an important way of saying thank you to employees for all their hard work. Feeling appreciated is a key component of employee engagement, and the links between this and  bottom line results are clearly shown.

A little known benefit of this kind of festive fun is that it reduces a company’s corporation tax liability.  According to Contractor UK, in contrast to entertaining customers, costs incurred entertaining employees are normally allowable against the profits of the business. Furthermore as long as the company hasn’t spent more than £150 (VAT inclusive) per person in a tax year the employees themselves will not have any personal tax implications.

Given the benefits of the annual shindig though everconscious of the current financial climate, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development  set Angela Baron, CIPD Adviser, Organisation Development and Engagement, the task of finding out whether both could be achieved. She found that it certainly could - what counts is the occassion and not the budget. In addition to Angela's findings though,  I would add these measures to keep the flame of goodwill alight:

·       Replacing the traditional big party with an informal get-together to keep costs down. A small festive quiz could be held in the workplace with some nibbles and mulled wine; boxes of chocolates and bottles of wine would make great prizes for the winning team.

·       Instead of forking out on expensive Christmas gifts, organise a work Secret Santa with a budget of £5 or £10. Another fun alternative could be for one of the senior team to dress up as Father Christmas and hand out wrapped presents from a sack to each employee. Cheap gift ideas could include toiletries, mini books or other small stocking-fillers.

·       If the worst comes to the worst and there is no budget for fun, keep the team jolly by playing Christmas songs during the festive period, holding a dress-down day where people are allowed to wear causal clothes or permitting people to go home a couple of hours early on a particular day.

In Angela's findings she made the very valid point that ‘a [Christmas] party shouldn’t be the only time when employees receive thanks for a good job either.’ ‘Purple Your People’ by Jane Sunley has some great tips on how to indulge employees on a budget such as providing ice lollies on hot summers days,  a team picnic or handwritten notes and thank you cards. 

For the record we will be having our Christmas party this year.

What do you think? Are you company having a Christmas party this year? And do you have any tips for improving employee engagement


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