Traditional office holiday parties getting ditched

By Joyce M. Rosenberg

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 11 2013 12:30 p.m. MST

In this Dec. 4, 2013, photo, provided by Lattice Engines, Lattice Engines's Boston office participates in Paint Nite, in Boston. Paint Nite is a service event that gives painting lessons at bars and restaurants. About sixty-five people attended.

Lattice Engines, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Buddy DiFonzo isn't sure what he'll buy at his company's holiday party. That's right, what he'll buy — the celebration, a company-sponsored shopping spree, will be at an upscale Dallas mall.

The six employees of consulting firm Idea Harvest will meet at NorthPark Center next week. The bosses will buy lunch, then hand each staffer an envelope with $200 to $300. One crucial requirement: Staffers must spend every penny on themselves.

"This is fantastic for morale and employees look forward to opening those envelopes for weeks," CEO Mike Solow says. "I hear people talking about it at lunch. It's awesome."

Many bosses are ditching traditional holiday parties. Instead, they're sponsoring shopping sprees and cruises to reward staffers and celebrate at the end of the year. Others are holding parties that include a special activity or are doing volunteer events that they say are good for business.

A variety of factors are behind the change, says Leslie Yerkes, president of Catalyst Consulting Group in Cleveland. Younger workers aren't as interested standard holiday celebrations; the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks made many companies look for events that were meaningful, like volunteer work; and the last recession curtailed spending on over-the-top affairs.

SHOPPING SPREE

When DiFonzo and his colleagues at Idea Harvest are done shopping, they'll meet for drinks and compare purchases.

Solow borrowed the shopping spree idea from a previous job, where staffers got lunch, money and time to go shopping. A lot of the fun is in the anticipation, he says.

"They print out the mall map and take note of where their favorite stores are," Solow says. "Some take the money and buy as many clothes as they can from Old Navy or Gap, and some look for one knockout item."

Last year, DiFonzo used his money to buy a North Face jacket he had coveted. It cost about $185. There was a little money left over, so he grabbed some underwear. This time, he's considering a pair of hiking boots.

HOLIDAY CRUISIN'

Employees of Konnect Public Relations are getting a four-day cruise to Mexico starting Friday. The Los Angeles-based company uses the trip as a reward for productivity. Top producers get extras like upgrades to a suite or spa treatments.

In past years, employees went to Lake Tahoe and toured wine country. Spouses have to stay home, but can attend a special holiday dinner.

The trip for 26 staffers will cost about $15,000, a worthwhile investment, Chief Operating Officer Monica Guzman says.

"We go through a lot to find really good quality people, and once we have them, we try everything in our power to keep them happy," she says.

PAINT PARTY

Lattice Engine's employees painted while they partied last week at a Boston restaurant. The software company brought in Paint Nite, a service that gives painting lessons at bars and restaurants. About 65 people painted trees on canvas while they drank and ate hors d'oeuvres.

The company holds parties with special activities to encourage staffers to interact with people they don't know well, officer manager Alicia Thomas says. Employees tend to work quietly in teams, with little contact with other staffers. And a paint party, or the trivia party held last year, is more fun for spouses who might otherwise sit in a corner by themselves.

With 65 people painting, including 40 employees, there was more mingling and chatter as partygoers admired everyone's artwork, says Thomas, who was one of the painters. The fun continued when staffers gathered for their weekly lunch meeting.

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