Why You Shouldn't Expect a Holiday Party

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The venerable office holiday party, where Mad Men-like workplaces ate, drank, drank some more and made merry, are going out of style rapidly.

According to data from OfficeTeam.com, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based employee staffing service, 79% of executives and 75% of staffers at firms that have had office parties gave those festivities "high marks." Yet when managers are asked if they plan to hold a holiday party this year, 52% of them said "thanks, but no thanks." (The company surveyed more than 1,000 senior executives and 404 workers at firms with 20 or more employees to reach that conclusion.)

Many managers evidently feel their hand has been forced on cutting back on holiday workplace cheer. Tougher drunken-driving rules and more stringent sexual harassment laws have company managers fearing incidents that put their firm in the sights of the law.

The slowly improving yet still tepid economy may be another factor for waning holiday workplace events. With budgets tight, more and more executives feel an office party just doesn't make sense. With company profit margins sliced thinner than a slice of provolone at a South Philadelphia deli, more managers also believe they can't afford to reduce productivity in December, the last chance to make money in 2012.

Another factor: office diversity. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and managers believe they must be sensitive to staffers who may feel offended by any nod from management toward a religious holiday.

But all that doesn't mean companies want to abandon the holiday office theme completely. Company decision-makers are just getting more creative, knowing celebrating the season has historically been a morale boost for workers, as the OfficeTeam survey shows.

"For many professionals, these gatherings offer a rare opportunity to get to know managers and co-workers on a personal level in a more relaxed environment," says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam. "Businesses that aren't able to organize formal year-end celebrations can still plan inexpensive, cheerful get-togethers to celebrate recent successes. Holding casual, nondenominational events also helps to keep staff motivated."

Hosking says that could include a catered meal, sans booze, at the office, or waiting until January (an "off-peak" month) to celebrate at a time restaurants are hurting and really want the business.

Don Draper may not have approved, but sloshing down a few martinis at the office holiday party is an idea whose time has passed.

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