SMBs Fight for Their Right to (Holiday) Party

The holiday office party is a beloved tradition filled with laughter, food and occasional copy machine abuse. Despite the worrisome economic climate, a survey finds SMBs are still gearing up for a year-end bash.

Market slowdowns, a drop in consumer confidence levels and the global credit freeze have resulted in many small and midsize businesses feeling pinched this holiday season. But that doesn't mean they are not looking for some way to celebrate.
According to a survey conducted this month by Glenview, Ill.-based online payroll service SurePayroll, most small-business owners are focused on closing out 2008 on a positive note. Despite the enormous financial challenges confronting midmarket companies in the last few months, the survey found six out of 10 small-business owners are planning to hold a holiday office party, and eight out of 10 of them are confident they can afford it.
"It's been a tough year for the business world, but most small-business owners realize how essential it is to thank their employees for their hard work," said SurePayroll President Michael Alter. "A holiday party is the perfect opportunity. Business owners might cut other costs during tough times, but most budget for end-of-year celebrations because they are a much-needed spirit-lifter for everyone in the company."

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Not only are business owners going ahead with holiday parties, but most say they aren't scaling back the scope of this season's parties. Seven out of 10 business owners who are planning parties said they are spending as much or more money on this year's party as they have in the past.
For the SMB owner who wants to thank employees without breaking the bank, there are ways to offer the company an opportunity to relax outside of the typical office-party tradition. The survey found that while 56 percent of business owners said they usually held their parties at restaurants, some respondents offered up stories about how they have made office holiday celebrations especially unique.
Some out-of-the-box celebrations the survey uncovered were bowling alley parties and concert events, as well as the more down-home pie eating contest. Most people are always interested in an event where they can relax with their co-workers and celebrate the accomplishments of the year, but coming up with an original setting or theme can make an office holiday party much more.

"Any office celebration is going to boost morale, but employees definitely appreciate extra creative ideas," said Alter. "It shows that employers care about their staff so much that they are willing to go the extra mile to make the holiday season special."
According to Alter, careful planning helps avoid embarrassing situations (someone always seems to end up abusing the copier) and keeps everyone included in the fun:

  • Think about the demographics of your staff. Are they mostly young and single or older with family responsibilities? This might change your ideas about where to hold the party. Though some 40-year-olds are interested in laser tag, that sort of environment is probably better suited to a young staff.
  • Ask around. Use your employees as a sounding board-unless you're planning a surprise. By getting a feel for what your employees consider a good time, you'll be better able to host a party where everyone feels comfortable-and might be given a couple of ideas you hadn't thought of.
  • Choose your location wisely. Alcohol has a habit of flowing freely at company parties, so encourage employees to carpool or take public transportation. Try to pick a venue that's easily accessible (or at least somewhat equidistant) to the majority of your employees.
  • Delegate responsibilities. SMB owners barely have enough time to get through the day-to-day tasks of keeping the company running, so don't put the burden all on yourself. Reach out to staff and ask for their help in coordinating arrangements and keeping the company informed of any changes or special requests.

While there is no secret formula to creating a successful holiday office party, the survey suggests that despite the gloomy economic environment, SMBs are more than eager to send the year out in style. With a little imagination and careful planning, you can show your employees how much you value their contribution-just keep an eye on the copier.