Is That Holiday Party Really Worth It?

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Holiday parties are expensive and a waste of time. I know this because I have been to, and hosted, countless ones.

A hundred years ago I attended holiday parties thrown by the Big 4 (actually it was Big 6 at the time) accounting firm I worked for. The firm actually had three of these parties — one for the main office and smaller ones for their two satellite offices in the area — and my bosses “strongly encouraged” me  to go to all of them. I also attended holiday parties thrown by the firm’s clients. When I left the firm after almost nine years I attended multiple holiday parties at the publicly held biopharmaceutical company where I worked. Then when I left there to start my own business I continued to go to parties at clients and, reluctantly, began holding an annual holiday event (it was a lunch or dinner) for my people.

So looking back I’ve been to big gala parties, smaller affairs, in-office events, at-home soirees, lunches and dinners all related to some sort of corporate holiday festivity. And you know what? None of them were worth it. Why?

For starters, no one really wants to be there. We work with these people all day and now we’re forced to see them after work? For me, if I wanted to hang out with fellow workers I’d do so on my own time. Spouses and significant others — if invited — certainly don’t want to be there either. They don’t know anyone and will immediately become suspicious of that good-looking co-worker who they’ve never heard you mention before but greets you just a little too warmly.

The food is usually OK and everyone likes an open bar. But then there are those who just can’t seem to hold it together. They say or do career-ending things they never would have in a professional environment. And let’s not forget the enormous liability risk if someone who’s been drinking at your party gets in a car and inadvertently runs over a puppy — or worse.

Oh, and then there’s the expense.

Some larger companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their holiday party. Smaller companies like mine cough up less, but still have to make a significant outlay for a smaller business. For some unknown reason, we host events downtown where employees must battle traffic, pay for parking or transit and then — ironically — step over homeless or needy people on the streets on the way to consuming vast amounts of shrimp cocktail and vodka.

What if all of us business owners and executives at medium and large sized companies across the country agreed not to have a holiday party and instead donated the money we would’ve spent to buy meals and housing for those homeless and needy people? Or bought textbooks for local school children? Or gave to a charity that helps the underprivileged wouldn’t that be more in line with the season?

But no, instead corporate America — and that includes you, me and millions of other small businesses — throw money away on events that few enjoy and provide no long term benefits other than that funny story about Jake in accounting and how everyone in the company found out at the same time that he has a large mole on his bottom. So what’s the alternative?  Here are a few things I’m considering.

I’m thinking I’ll write a personal thank you note to individuals. I may bump up bonuses a little. I’ll definitely be sending chocolates to certain key customers as a thank you. I’ll likely hand out a few gift cards to a few select people and tell them that instead of being forced to undergo the agony of an office party why not instead have a nice dinner out with the significant other on me. I plan to give an extra day or two off in December (or maybe even January) so that people can have a little extra time to spend with their families. I will definitely take the money I save by not having that party and instead donate it to a local fundraiser for a sick friend I know.

All of these things I’m considering this year. To me, they mean much more than a stupid holiday party. No one will quit because I didn’t throw a holiday party. Some may become even more loyal.

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