Grinchy Managers Are Stealing Christmas as Office Parties Hit All-Time Low

Just as there has been a “new normal” for most businesses after the Great Recession, there also is a new set of expectations for employees. Demands for lavish benefits and resume-building opportunities have been replaced by a need for job security and a willingness to suffer more inconveniences simply to maintain employment.

But one of the few perks that most employees still could count on was a good old-fashioned holiday party at the end of the year. And since there are a host of positive economic indicators, including rising predictions for fourth-quarter GDP, you would think that the end-of-year festivals would be pretty good in 2011.

Not so. Many companies will not celebrate the holiday season with their employees at all, pushing office party frequency down to an all-time low, according to a New York recruitment firm.

Specifically, Amrop Battalia Winston polled 120 companies and found just 74% will have office parties this year — down from 79% in 2010 and 81% in both 2009 and 2008. The 74% for 2011 is the lowest in the survey’s 23 years.

Nearly half of the 26% of companies not holding an office party this year said they didn’t have the budget. Another 37% said that partying didn’t seem appropriate given the broader economic picture.

Lost in the shuffle of headlines about struggling businesses and the desperate situation of some long-term unemployed Americans is the fact that even working stiffs have gotten a raw deal. Many employees have been forced to work longer hours or forgo raises for the past few years — but they have no other options and just suffer through at the job they currently hold. On top of that, employers have slashed benefits like 401(k) matching or have increased health care premiums even as wages have stayed stagnant.

It’s no wonder workers are so jaded and show little loyalty.

A recent Harris Interactive survey reported that 74% of workers wouldn’t hesitate to leave their job — if they only had other options. More than one-third of workers are unhappy with their current employer, according to Harris. Separately, a Mercer’s study in June called “What’s Working” found that more than half of all Americans want to quit.

This Grinch-like behavior by office managers in 2011 is just one more reason for employee discontent.

Let’s not pretend holiday parties are wonderful experiences. A little eggnog and a raffle for movie tickets hardly makes up for being underpaid and overworked. But if managers can’t embrace a spirit of giving and appreciation in the holidays — even if it is just a token gesture — then they need to seriously consider what will happen when the job market improves.

Keeping employees trapped in their jobs and working for peanuts might keep the lights on for now, but that’s a very poor way to grow a business in the long term. Not only will employees fail to become true stakeholders in the success of the business, they will run screaming for the exits at the first chance they get.

Managers should think of this before saying “bah humbug” to office parties this year.

Jeff Reeves is the editor of Write him at, follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.

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