Las Vegas Sun

October 30, 2014

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Holiday spirit — parties on the cheap

Lavish company parties may be a spirit of holidays past, but businesses can still celebrate the season and boost employee morale without shelling out big bucks.

Usually Las Vegas Event Planner has 80 company parties on its books, but this year, it is a mere 20, said Michael Hinden, owner of the party-planning company. Hinden said he hopes more businesses will contract with him for their holiday bash, but isn’t optimistic.

The company’s best year saw 100 bookings.

Companies that book parties with Hinden range in size from 40 to 100 employees, he said. Most repeat customers haven’t returned this year, and some have gone out of business.

Hinden said he noticed a decline in company parties as far back as 2001 because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Back then, we had all this craziness,” he said. “A lot of companies started skating by.”

There was a big upswing in 2006 and 2007, but 2008 was “horrible,” he said.

The companies hosting holiday parties are more budget-minded, he said.

“This year it’s even worse,” Hinden said, adding that his workforce is down two-thirds. “We definitely have availability.”

Employees can expect fewer gifts this year from employers, too, according to American Express Open’s small-business monitor that surveyed 516 companies with 100 employees or less Oct. 6 to 14.

Just a third of the businesses (35 percent) said they would give gifts to their employees, down from 46 percent last year. Another 30 percent said they aren’t planning anything for the holidays for their workers, the same as the year before.

Year-end bonuses are also falling, with 31 percent of companies saying they would give out bonuses this year, compared with 44 percent last year.

Companies are pulling back slightly on holiday get-togethers, with 44 percent saying they would offer a festivity, down from 49 percent last year.

Human resources expert Arte Nathan, president and chief operating officer of Strategic Development Worldwide, said he has noticed most companies have cut back on the holiday party for the past five years.

Companies are asking smaller groups of workers, such as departments, to have potluck dinners, home parties or excursions such as ice skating in lieu of an expensive event.

“It’s more about people getting together,” he said. “It’s about creating teamwork and camaraderie.”

And instead of the annual holiday gift employers may have handed out, many may elect for a gift exchange among employees to encourage personal interaction.

The type of benefit that used to be associated with holiday giving began cooling about five years ago with companies moving toward more meaningful expressions of the season, such as volunteering and toy drives, Nathan said.

“There are a lot more alternatives out there to give and receive,” he said. “It is really more in keeping with the spirit than just getting gifts. It’s a nice thing.”

At Loews Lake Las Vegas, companies are electing a more modest party of dinner and wine with a cash bar, forgoing lavish parties with cocktails and “all the bells and whistles,” spokeswoman Jennifer Duffy said.

The focus, she said, appears to be on spending quality time together.

“It’s OK to celebrate the success of this year, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money,” she said.

Those that do book a holiday party have scaled back, Hinden said. Four-hour parties are now two hours; it’s background music instead of a disc jockey.

Although it’s a great time to build morale, companies are not taking that opportunity, he said.

“I think people are missing the big picture of what they can get out of (holiday parties), instead of what they put into it,” Hinden said.

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