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Page last updated at 00:28 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The death of the Christmas Party?

Man recovers from exertions at Christmas party

By Sarah Bell
BBC News

Christmas office parties for some used to be lavish affairs, overflowing with cocktail sausages and free beer, but now people are increasingly being asked to pay their own way or face no festive bash. So are we seeing the death of this yuletide tradition?

Once it might have been cheap champagne in a venue with a proper disco ball and three different choices of canape at the company's expense.

Now you'll be lucky to cradle a glass of warm white wine in the corner of the office with a Slade tape playing in the background and cheese and pineapple on a stick.

Men at party
These men could be reminiscing about the halcyon days of 2006

Formerly a staple of the festive season, many firms have sided with Scrooge, cutting or scrapping the funds for office parties as the effects of the global downturn are felt.

Even the most cursory glance at Facebook shows that everyone from teachers to lawyers, insurance brokers to journalists, is experiencing austerity on the office party front.

In fact, fewer than four in 10 office workers will definitely have a Christmas party this year, research by YouGov suggests. Of those who will be given the chance to drunkenly dance in front of their colleagues, one in six said they would contribute to the budget themselves.

One worker for whom Christmas is cancelled is Steve, who works for a telecoms company.

"Officially it was because we made people redundant in November and it would be insensitive, but it was mainly to save cash. In past boom years we have even put everyone up in a hotel for the night," he says.

There's a perception that spending on events like Christmas parties is somehow wasteful - the point I try to make to people is there's no such thing as good or bad spend
Mike Kershaw

"The end result has been more drinking because people have gone out more to compensate and there have been loads of leaving dos."

And it's not just lack of money, but also a question of appearances for many firms.

Car firm Honda is not having a party for the first time, after 1,300 people were made redundant at its Swindon branch. "We decided to show solidarity and save as much money as possible," a spokesman says.

At the BBC, "in light of the current climate" the corporation's contribution to staff parties has plummeted from £50 a head to zero in three years.

There is particular scrutiny of big banks, with angst over how quickly some have returned to big bonuses. This is especially evident at the banks bailed out with billions of pounds of tax payers' money. Northern Rock has not had a corporate party for three years, while RBS is making a "small contribution".

Keith DJs at the Wernham Hogg Christmas party
No piece about office parties would be complete without this image

"Our staff have worked very hard over the past 12 months. We won't waste bank money but the longstanding tradition of paying a small contribution towards staff parties has been judged appropriate," a spokeswoman said.

If parties are happening at all, it's behind closed doors, as the Lord Mayor of London, Nick Anstee, recently indicated.

"I don't think there is any celebration because that's part and parcel of the city responding to the environment in which we find ourselves.

"It would be very, very difficult for photographs or newsreels to be broadcast showing city workers revelling over what they've got when the rest of the country is suffering."

The end of extravagance means the hospitality industry could be facing the quietest festive season since the 1990s.

"Despite the descent into technical recession, this time last year many corporate Christmas lunches had already been booked, deposits taken, and to cancel would have meant letting staff down," says Stephen Broome, director of hospitality and leisure at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

We haven't had an office party in years as we are busy working all Xmas and new year in essential services to keep you all safe on a 24/7 basis with very little reward - still I retire next year so may even get a Xmas after 30 years of shifts
West Midlands

"But faced with the economic realities of this recession company bosses have now had nine months to refine policies and prepare staff for more restrained celebrations this Christmas."

Concerto, a major events organiser, says bookings are down 20% and firms are spending less money.

"This is a £1bn-a-year business, and there's significant money not being spent. With small businesses the knock-on effect could be quite bad," chairman Mike Kershaw says.

He believes it's happened because the media suggests it is inappropriate for companies to throw parties, using terms like "squander".

"There's a perception that spending on events like Christmas parties is somehow wasteful. The point I try to make to people is there's no such thing as good or bad spend, there's just spend in the economy from one part to another. I find this distinction bizarre," he says.

We have had to knock our Xmas jollies on the head this year as it did not seem right to have a shindig when so may colleagues have been laid off this year - we have to be slim and lean to be ready for when the inevitable upturn in fortunes make themselves felt
Mark, Buxton

A "drastic" drop in bookings, 50% since last year, has also been felt by Infusion Events.

One of its contracts is with a narrow boat party venue, once popular with blue chip companies like HSBC and British Airways. Last year the boat had 25 bookings. This year it has five, director Rachid Radi says.

The change in climate is striking and catering firms worth £4m have gone under in 2009 because the trade from the City has dropped away, he says.

"Whereas before you'd say to clients 'you're going to have this, this and this' and they'd just agree, now you put it down on paper and they are cutting it down to the bare minimum."

They are also ordering cheaper foods like chicken, rather than lamb, and supplying their own alcohol.

These people are, in tabloid language, 'revellers'

While it may mean fewer red faces the next day as drunken memories flood back, firms are warned that sacrificing festivities could have a destructive effect on business.

The Chartered Management Institute has told employers not to use the recession as an excuse for failing to acknowledge the efforts of their employees. It commissioned a survey which found two-thirds of managers believe Christmas parties are important in helping to improve "employee engagement".

"Particularly this year, people have been working twice as hard just to stand still, it's important to show staff their efforts have not gone unnoticed. If they feel they are going unnoticed they will feel 'why do I bother'," says chief executive Ruth Spellman.

"The whole point of the Christmas party is saying thank you for all the things they have done throughout the year, it's an appropriate time to draw a line under a year and say 'let's move forward now'."

But all is not lost. Some companies are going for quality, not quantity, and are thinking more about what they do, which actually means staff are having a better time.

"We had a bigger one this year," says Matt Pitman, who works for insurance brokers Bluefin in Leeds.

No Christmas party for us this year with the amount that would have been spent having gone to a local charity instead - nothing to do with cut backs

Its regional party was scrapped, instead his branch was given a budget, which it spent on a party at Elland Road football ground with other companies.

"It was a big, posh, sit-down meal with bands and a DJ. So even though we spent the same it felt like a much bigger do," he says.

There will be many others who have to organise their own bashes and pay for their own drinks, but who will remain determined to have fun.

The spirit of the Christmas party lives on.

Below is a selection of your comments.

The relationship between individuals and employers is changing. More people, like myself, prefer temporary contracts and do not expect, or want, to get involved with office based socialising. We don't go to work to make friends, we go to make money and once you embrace that concept life gets a whole lot easier.
Rick, Knutsford, Cheshire

I work in the City, my office bash is today and we're toning things down, a few drinks in the office before a do in a small bar with a BBQ. My firm is doing fine but I think it's just not seen as appropriate to be splashing the cash on big parties this year. I will certainly be annoyed when I see the inevitable news stories of how much the banks have spent on their dos this year...
Peter, London

I'm not sad to see the end of the party - as a spouse I find that one ends up in a venue that really isn't to your taste, surrounded by people talking shop and trading office politics. Any attempt to talk to other spouses is generally thwarted by the general din in the venue. Bah! Humbug!
Richard Howell, Macclesfield UK

No Christmas this year! We have the 25th off and that's it and no party has been scheduled for the staff at the university I work at. But it is 30C and sunny and the city is draped in cotton wool and plastic with tinsel on every corner. The locals love the tat of xmas. I'm off to the beach for a long weekend.
Graham, Saigon/Ho Chi Minh

I suppose the provision of a Christmas party is an interesting barometer of the company's perception of the staff and vice versa. I remember that one company I worked for had lavish Christmas and summer parties, but then axed these as things got tight. So perhaps in the name of job security I should have taken the hint and moved on before being made redundant. Another company I worked at in the 1990s had a departmental Christmas party, but one year it was cancelled due to lack of interest. The reason? A new manager had been hired who was so unpopular that no-one wanted to be in a social situation with him. That time I upped sticks and left within the year.
Paul, Bracknell, UK

I disagree that there is a tradition of companies putting on a big do for their staff at Christmas. It wasn't that long ago when the average works Christmas party just involved downing some cheap booze after work in the office itself. The usual result of which was that you came in the next day with the hangover from hell to find a photocopy of your arse hanging over your desk, and spending the day having to deny rumours that you had been caught snogging in the stationery cupboard - when you really had no memory of what happened and straight denial seems the best policy whilst you try to piece together the vague events of the previous evening.
Mark Rivers, Luton, UK

This recession does seem to have turned in to an excuse to be miserly, trimming costs where ever possible to squeeze that last bit of profit for share holders. Two of the companies I've recently worked with have scaled back or scrapped there Christmas bash only to announce record (and mind blowing) profits of over £1.5bn. Recessions are good for cutting the chaff but show some respect for those you keep.
Andy, London

As a public sector worker, I've never had a Christmas party that wasn't paid for in its entirety by the staff. Why should other people's money pay for us to have a knees-up simply because it's Christmas?
Sara, London, UK

Most 'Holiday Parties' here in the US tend to be stingy, dull events. Very few offices put out the cash for good food and booze, and who really wants to 'socialize' with their bosses anyway? Tomorrow I have an awkward lunch with my co-workers. Over the weekend I'll have a 'tree-trimming' party with friends, family, food and fun. After all, 'separation of professional and personal' is almost as important as 'separation of church and state' - isn't it? Happy Holidays.
Philly-Mom, Philadelphia, PA - USA

I work in the public sector and we've never had a paid for "do" in the decade I've worked for the company. We have a departmental party every year, but we all pay for ourselves and generally go out to a restaurant. When I worked in the private sector it was a much different story, with free food, a free bar, and subsidised hotel rooms for those who wanted them. I worked for a very small company (60 employees) in 1996 and the bar bill that year was nearly £4,000, of which I had my fair share. Those days are well gone, and probably just as well - my liver couldn't take it anymore!
Charlie, Edinburgh

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