Only 65% of companies plan to throw a holiday party this year — a rate that hasn't hovered so low since 2009, according to the 2018 Holiday Party Study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
But it's not financial trouble that has slowed the festivities. "Based on all the economic context, we'd expect to see the opposite results," Andrew Challenger, VP at Challenger, Gray & Christmas told HR Dive in an interview. Business leaders haven't gone grinchy, nor have they found inspiration in Ebenezer Scrooge. Still, the rate of company parties has seen a decline.
Challenger said he noticed the downward trend when his firm conducted the annual study last year. HR leaders tipped him off that the downturn may have something to do with the #MeToo movement, which shone a light on workplace misconduct. This year, the firm added specific questions about #MeToo to its survey and the results suggest the movement has played a role in the holiday party's growing infrequency. "Holiday parties — when they're after hours, when there's alcohol flowing — they seem to be a recipe for inappropriate behavior," Challenger said. "We know it's on HR's minds. In a lot of ways, the HR team and department is in charge of creating a safe environment for their employees."
According to the study, 27% of companies said they never hold holiday parties. Eight percent said they aren't having one for various reasons. In 2009, 23% reported they elected not to have one. "In 2009, we were in the depths of the Great Recession — that's when we expected to see these numbers at holiday parties," Challenger said. But at the top of the market, when unemployment has fallen to the lowest rates since 1969, Challenger said he expected to see the highest number of companies throwing parties.
The study found that 27% of companies have addressed the #MeToo movement with their workforces in the last year and "will take precautions to ensure everyone is mindful of avoiding impropriety at the party." Another 6% said they have not addressed the movement in the past year but plan to do so before the event.
Still, many businesses want to recognize employees at the end of the calendar year, and the holidays provide a perfect opportunity for that, Challenger said. According to a recent survey by Tripleseat, a business-to-business event, sales and management platform, 66% of employees said they will attend their company holiday party, if it's offered. The survey also found that 57% of employees have seen their colleagues intoxicated.
For businesses that want to host holiday parties but fear the bad behavior they might give rise to, Challenger has a simple solution: Invite kids. "The first line of defense, instead of canceling the party, is making it family friendly," he said. "Have people bring in their spouses and their children and have it during the day."
Employees also have shown more interest in experience-focused parties than parties that feature drinking as the central activity, Latha Youngren, VP of Marketing at Tripleseat said. "People are drawn to experiences, so they want to be doing something more. That's a trend we're seeing beyond the holiday party," Youngren told HR Dive in an interview. "People don't just want food and beverages. They want something else."
Youngren said any party with a theme will excite attendees, but businesses that add another element, like a game, will really win employees' favor. "There's a huge rise to anything that has a game element," Youngren said.
Tripleseat has helped employers host holiday parties in movie theaters, where they screen holiday movies like Elf and set up make-your-own hot chocolate bars, according to Youngren. While alcohol will likely remain a part of holiday office parties, "people are all about the experiences of the holiday and they are moving away from doing alcohol-related activities," Youngren said.