Company parties are back – but with a little restraint

NEW YORK – Say goodbye to virtual wine tasting and dive into karaoke. Love ’em or hate ’em, corporate holiday celebrations are back – in a toned down way.

After more than two years of working in pajama pants and clinking glasses via Zoom, many office workers seem to be craving a little glamour. Ditto for some frontline workers who saw celebrations being canceled despite showing up for work every day in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It just always makes me feel special,” said Shobha Surya, who missed treating herself to a new dress every year for the dinner and karaoke party hosted by Ajinomoto Health and Nutrition North America, a Japanese company based in the Chicago area. She was so excited for the party to be back for the first time in two years that she picked out her black and white cocktail dress two months in advance.

“Let everyone go,” she said, smiling Monday after the party where she accepted a recognition award for 15 years with the company. “This will get you into the holiday season.”

More than 57% of businesses are planning in-person holiday celebrations this year, according to a survey of 252 U.S.-based businesses conducted by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a staffing firm. While that’s still significantly lower than the 75% who threw parties in 2019, it’s a big jump from 26% in 2021 and 5% in 2020.

Still, not everyone is ready to party like it’s 2019.

Many parties are becoming more intimate as companies try to accommodate workers who live increasingly distant and dispersed. Some companies are opting for spas, juggling shows, and even private cinema screenings to attract employees who have enjoyed working from home. And some are holding on to bonuses or extra free time they’ve offered in lieu of parties during the pandemic.

Cari Snavely’s team of 20 decided to have a pickleball afternoon when their Boston-based software company gave them a budget so they could choose how they wanted to celebrate.

It’s a far cry from the huge hits she remembers from her days working at Coke in Atlanta a few years ago, but Snavely said it’s a better way to break the ice for people who don’t do much have worked together personally. Plus, she said, many of her teammates wanted the ability to leave work and come home early.

“We really wanted to make sure as many people as possible could go,” said Snavely, who works in finance. “People have responsibilities at home, kids.”

Quickbase has 700 employees, but many of them are remote — and as far away as Bulgaria — so it made no sense to throw a big party at headquarters, Chief People Officer Sherri Kottmann said. Instead, the company left individual teams to organize their own fun. Even in Boston, she said, only 30% to 40% of employees show up in the middle of the week when it’s busiest.

But one thing seems certain: people are fed up with hitting the screens for cocktail making or secret Santa exchanges. Less than 2% of businesses are hosting virtual celebrations this year, according to Challenger’s survey, compared to 7% last year and 17% in 2020.

Jeff Consoletti, founder of Las Angeles-based events production company JJLA, said he didn’t get any requests this year for the gift boxes and cheese-wine pairing kits that have helped keep his business afloat for the past two years. Instead, he’s seen a 100% increase in bookings for in-person events, though they’re much smaller than the 5,000-person celebrations he often hosted before the pandemic.

Ksenia Kulynych, operations manager of the Monarch Rooftop & Indoor Lounge in New York, said she’s seen a 30 percent increase in reservations for small groups this year — and often drastically under- or over-selling guests as planners struggle to to assess how great the enthusiasm is for parties. Lunchtimes are surprisingly popular and Fridays are off.

“We will open on Fridays and the answer is always: ‘Nobody is in the office. It’s too difficult to get someone to come to the office. Nobody will come to town on a Friday,'” said Kulynych.

Even before the remote work revolution, some people pushed back on the idea of ​​”forced fun” at work, particularly in corporate cultures where heavy drinking is intertwined with networking.

Shwetha Pai, who works from home in Cincinnati for a small workplace analytics firm, said big holiday parties bring back memories of her early career days in investment banking, when she was always on the alert during male-dominated evenings and she often used them as a home commute Sorry for an early departure.

“People make bad decisions in situations like this. They just do it,” said Pai, 41, director of operations and marketing at Worklytics. “There’s definitely this expectation that you’re going to be a part of everything because that’s part of ‘team bonding’. But in fact for women it is really fraught with challenges and risks. ”

Bill MacQueen, 46, is far from the big city nightlife as executive director of commercialization at an Ajinomoto manufacturing facility in Eddyville, Iowa. And he doesn’t drink.

But count it for bingo.

MacQueen said his heart “jumped with joy that we were back before COVID” when he received his bingo card at the entrance of Ajinomoto’s dinner party for his factory workers, an event he’s cherished since working there 28 years ago started , two days after graduation.

“It was just so nice to hear everyone in that hall talking and laughing and people teasing each other,” MacQueen said. “And it sounds cheesy, it was just like a family reunion.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Company parties are back – but with a little restraint

Sarah Y. Kim

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