Tis the season to be reasonable. So should we axe the Christmas party?
November 30, 2008
November 30, 2008
The CBC, American Express and Pacific Newspaper Group are doing it. It’s no surprise that Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Barclays Capital are doing it too. But so are Viacom, ABC News, Hearst, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Adidas.
What are all these famous companies, and many others not quite so famous, doing? They’re cancelling their annual company Christmas parties. The Grinch may not have stolen Christmas this year, but he definitely is taking away the Christmas party. (Left unsaid is that other popular company events will also likely get the axe over the course of the coming year.) Cancelled parties or severely scaled-back seasonal events are becoming the norm as companies take stock of the year ahead and decide to cut out any “unnecessary” events as a cost-saving measure.
It’s the responsible thing to do, is it not? Should you not do the same? When you consider all the social events that go on at transportation companies – Christmas parties, staff barbecues, driver recognition nights, sales recognition outings, etc – they do add up to a fair chunk of change over the course of the year.
If you have already cancelled your Christmas party or are planning to do so, you’re certainly in good company. In its survey of 100 companies, outplacement consultant Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. found that 23% of companies elected not to host a holiday party this year, compared with only 10% in 2007. New York executive search firm Battalia Winston Amrop found in its survey of 108 firms that 19% will forgo a party this year, the highest percentage in the poll’s 20-year history. And in a separate study of more than 1,200 executives by Towers Perrin, 58% of all organizations polled acknowledge they are somewhat or very likely to scale back this year’s holiday party and other employee events to save money.
The true savings though are dubious. Companies holding the event outside their building don’t necessarily save any money when they cancel an event on such short notice. When you cancel within 60 days of the event, you’re pretty much on the hook for the venue’s rental.
But that’s not what’s most important here. What is important is the often unappreciated impact of Christmas parties and other corporate social events not only on how employees feel about their company but on how they feel in general.
Let me relate a story I learned from reading Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, Outliers. Gladwell writes about the residents of Roseto, Pennsylvania. The town was founded more than a century ago by wave after wave of immigrants from the Appenine foothills territory of Italy. No one took much notice of this growing American town built on a rocky hillside in Pennsylvania until the1950s. That’s when a physician and lecturer from the University of Oklahoma named Stewart Wolf accidently discovered while sharing a beer with a local doctor that finding anyone from Roseto under age 65 dying of heart disease was strikingly rare. This was the 1950s remember, years before drugs to lower cholesterol hit the market and any real public awareness about the causes of heart disease.
Wolf decided to investigate. What made the people from Roseto so different? Wolf first thought the Rosetans must have hung on to some dietary practices from their Italian roots that were much healthier than the typical American diet. But he quickly realized that wasn’t true. When their eating habits were analyzed, it was revealed the average Rosetan was certainly not eating as healthy as his relatives back in Italy. The Rosetans were cooking with lard instead of the much healthier olive oil they would have used back in Italy. They had abandoned their native thin-crust pizza of salt, oil, and perhaps some tomatoes, anchovies or onions for bread dough plus sausage, pepperoni, salami, ham and sometimes eggs. Sweets such as biscotti which used to be reserved for Christmas and Easter were being eaten year round. In fact 41% of the typical Rosetan’s calories were coming from fat. Nor were Rosetans avid joggers or into yoga and many smoked and were struggling with obesity.
Were Rosetans the beneficiaries of some really healthy genes? Wolf tracked down relatives of Rosetans who were living in other parts of the US to see if they shared the same remarkable good health. They didn’t.
Perhaps there was something particularly beneficial about living in the foothills of eastern Pennsylvania. That didn’t check out either. The two closest towns, just a few miles away, and also populated with hardworking European immigrants, had death rates from heart disease that were three times that of Roseto.
After pursuing dead end after dead end, Wolf finally realized that the secret of Roseto was Roseto itself. He walked about town and noticed how the Rosetans “visited one another, stopping to chat in Italian on the street, say, or cooking for one another in their backyards…He went to mass and saw the unifying and calming effect of the church. He counted 22 separate civic organizations in a town of just under 2,000 people.”
What the Rosetans had managed to do was create a cohesive, powerful and protective social structure capable of insulating them from the pressures of the modern world. They had, in other words, stumbled on the importance of creating the feeling of “community” as a way to battle through life’s struggles. The effectiveness of this community feeling was evident in Rosetans’ health.
When we really think about it, is that not what Christmas parties and other corporate events really are about? I have to admit I’ve missed more than my share of Christmas parties over the years. But I still understand that the kind of corporate “community” bonds formed at Christmas parties and other such company events not only serve as indication the company appreciates the contributions made by its employees but also create the cohesive glue that helps employees better deal with adversity. I guess it’s just harder to get all stressed out when you feel you’ve got other people pulling with you and for you.
What signal are we sending when we bail out of such events at the first sign of financial trouble?
With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics. All posts by Lou Smyrlis