Saturday, 21 November 2009

Bah, Humbug - Christmas Is Cancelled

It is the time of year for Christmas parties at companies. The economic climate as well as the weather, is not good. Will you be having a party this year?

It’s the annual event when the strangest things happen. A normally mild mannered and conservative boss has a few too many and is dancing with his shirt open on a desk with the pretty girl from reception while, in some stationery cupboard a sales representative is introducing the finance director to more than his forecast. Paper plates of food, streamers and half empty bottles are everywhere, lipstick over every collar and well worn branches of mistletoe lay strewn on the floor like small stones laying out the telltale trail to more lewd scenes.

It has become customary in times of success to widen the party from the office to restaurants and even hotels and the Monday after has nothing to do with work but is an hilarious catch-up of who did what to whom and where. The office party has elevated to the company party and it is an annual event which everyone looks forward to, even stuffy managers, as it is the one time where most rules are abolished, hair is unanimously let down and no one worries about the bill after as many companies vie to see how many places they can be banned from over the years.

This year is different - although I was heartened to see at the Grosvenor House last week a very dignified black tie affair going. Then again the City is back in good shape, but let’s not go there to ask who is funding the party. But I have heard many companies will be reining back this year and for some, Christmas will be cancelled.

Christmas parties are one of those galvanising events when a huge proportion of the company ensures it can be there even if they have conflicts in their diary. It’s a sense of family, of community and it is a time to bond – often in more ways than one. From the company’s perspective it is a time to thank everyone and be happy despite the conditions. So is cancelling Christmas a good idea if the conditions are not good?

In actual fact it isn’t a good idea to cancel Christmas. There can be some awful things happening, even redundancies and cut backs, office or factory closures, and while displaced employees may think it is crass, it is really important that those who stay are thanked for their efforts and that the company opens its doors to the family it has. The power of bonding, however deep that gets, is a massive motivator. A great party is a huge stake in the ground for everyone to say that there are 'in it together' and that at one time in the year, hierarchies and titles are pretty much pulled down as the emphasis is on fun. The effects of booze can be a great leveller.

If the company does not have massive funds in play and is in the process of cutbacks it can work to its advantage by ring-fencing some money for the annual party. What more powerful message can be derived by saying, ‘We may be doing badly and making cuts but the company is not going to miss the opportunity to thank everyone and have fun.’ It could be a time, just before the whole thing descends into chaos and debauchery for the CEO to say just that.

Another point is that if the company is truly scraping every penny together to stay afloat, often the staff will chip in with their own money as long as the company makes a gesture – the party is something that everyone values and believes in and can be more symbolic if left to whither. Even a scaled down party is important for everyone to feel that sense of belonging. The preservation of culture can often cost far less than you think.

I hear a lot from companies that parties used to be debauched and involve incredible high antics and that as the company has grown they have calmed down. This is nothing unusual – companies grow and mature and it is a barometer of how far the company has got as to how the party changes. Many companies have a single party and as they grow, it splits up into subsidiaries and departments – it’s a sign of progress.

I would urge all companies who have thought or are thinking of cancelling Christmas, to think again. A single party can be your stake in the ground of defiance of a bad economy and market – it says, 'You will not be daunted and that everyone is in it together'.

My word, you can almost hear the speeches now stirring up the staff and getting them to fight on the beaches, wringing chicken necks or whatever - just before the MD is found in the cupboard with that aspiring manager from HR.

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