Holiday parties remain priority for company morale

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By Kathy Ruff

According to the Sept. 10 Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index, it seems American adults have mixed feelings about the overall state of the economy. While the greater share of U.S. adults believes the current condition of the economy is good, at the same time, a majority of the country believes economic conditions are getting worse.

As the year end approaches, that belief keeps many businesses in Northeast Pennsylvania prudent when it comes to holiday parties.

A 2016 annual survey on holiday parties put out by Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. (CG&C) found that 80 percent of companies surveyed planned to host holiday parties last year. After years of moving away from extravagant affairs since the Great Recession, more than 21 percent expected to budget more for their events. CG&C will release its 2017 survey later this year.

“We’re in business 44 years and we had generally done up a party each year,” said Mary Lou Combellock, controller with Schumacher Engineering Inc., Hazleton, Luzerne County. “Some years, it was on a grander scale where we had a party inviting clients, customers; and other years it was a party just with our employees, depending on what the environment was.”

Similar to many other businesses, both seasonal and economic fluctuations have resulted in changes for the engineering firm over those years, including during the recent economic downturn.

“We did some restructuring and we have smaller crews,” Combellock said. “We are down to a skeleton crew but we still manage the holidays, even if it’s an office party. There are many years we took our people to a dinner or dance, into another venue of some sort. It has toned down over the last three years. That type of thing had to be a smaller scale”

Combellock expects this year to be no different.

“We don’t have a plan for this year yet,” she said. “We usually don’t get into this until November. At the very lowest, it would be an office type of situation where maybe we had a catered lunch or something.”

One Luzerne County banquet and meeting venue sees many businesses downsizing their holiday events.

“Holiday parties are definitely smaller and a lot less than they used to be,” said Jacqueline Van Gieson, general manager for Hazleton’s Top of the 80s restaurant. “Part of it is the liability. Part of it is, I think, everybody cuts back a little bit. They are doing it on a more economical scale.”

Despite the smaller sizes, Van Gieson expects this year’s catering and banquet business to remain brisk.

“I do have some (parties) booked,” she said. “I have more than I had last year.”

Another catering facility also sees subtle changes in companies hosting holiday parties.

“Based on the economy, we don’t see a decrease in holiday parties,” said Kelly Trapper, event coordinator for Constantino’s Catering & Events, Dunmore. “The only place we do see people holding back or keeping it in check would be with businesses and how they handle their holiday parties. They are not really cutting back.”

The off-premises catering company opened a full-service venue earlier this year in Clarks Summit.

“We just opened a new venue this past year and we do have some booked already,” Trapper said. “We don’t get many people to call until after Halloween. We always do have customers calling every year so the recurring customers are still there but some of them do food on their own or people bring their own stuff. We have a steady base of people.”

While a local bank didn’t elaborate on the scope or specifics of its holiday events, its management highlighted the value and benefit of such events.

“We make it a priority each year to have the opportunity to enjoy some good, honest, fellowship with our clients,” said Daniel J. Santaniello, president and CEO of Fidelity Bank, Scranton. “As a community bank, it is really our clients who are responsible for helping us be successful. All of our bankers look forward to having that special opportunity to enjoy genuine conversations outside the branches and boardrooms, to get to know our clients as people and to learn more about them and their families.”

That networking extends to its employee base.

“We’ve had some really great, record-setting years in a row,” said Santaniello. “It is so vitally important to make sure we make that time throughout the year, but especially at the holidays, to say thank you, ask how are things are going. … We’re glad to have you here! Additionally, we celebrate the holidays with our bankers at a company-wide party that includes their significant others. So much of their time is spent making the bank a success, and that work is done only with the support of a loving family. It is our way of saying thank you to them for a job well-done.”

Saying thank you for a job well done also lies at the core of another organization’s holiday party.

“Here at our office, we will have a pot-luck lunch and do a gift exchange,” said Marlyn Kissner, executive director of the Carbon Chamber & Economic Development Corp., Lehighton. “It’s more of an informal thing.”

Kissner also sees holiday parties as a way for businesses not only to celebrate the holidays but also to recognize and thank its employees.

“Businesses are making sure that they are taking care of their employees,” she said. “If they want to cut back and maybe not do a big holiday party, they do an upscale lunch or thank-you gift or just a thank you personally, face-to-face in front of people.”

While some companies have no plan for a holiday party, others plan to focus on acknowledging personal relationships.

GUIDELINES FOR OFFICE HOLIDAY PARTYGOERS

Arrive early: This might be your best opportunity to talk with senior executives while things are still relatively quiet. Work the room: It is easy to simply socialize with the members of your department, with whom you work with day in and day out. However, you gain if you use this occasion to meet people in other departments. You never know who can help your career.

Do not over indulge: Free alcohol can quickly lead to excessive drinking. Stay in control. You do not want to do anything embarrassing to you or your employer. Even if your alcohol-induced actions do not get you fired, they could hurt your chances for advancement.

Be friendly, but not too friendly: The company party is not the place to try out your latest pick-up lines. The risk of such behavior being seen as sexual harassment is high.

Avoid talking business: This is not the time to approach your boss with a new business idea. Save that for Monday morning. Instead, find out about his or her interests outside of the office. Find a connection on a personal level. That connection will help you on Monday when you bring up the new idea and it could help when it comes time for salary reviews.

Attend other companies’ parties: 52 percent of company parties are employees only. If a friend invites you to his or her company party, you should go. It is an opportunity to expand your professional network, which is critical in this era of downsizing and job switching.

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., 2016 Challenger Holiday Party Outlook

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