Sunday, July 13, 2014

Traditional office holiday parties fading

December 11. 2013 11:31PM

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Nautilus used to have lavish parties with employee gifts like big-screen TVs. In 2004, the fitness equipment maker decided to focus less on itself and more on the community, says Wayne Bolio, a senior vice president. So Nautilus began sponsoring an annual shopping trip for children at a Target store near the company’s Vancouver, Wash., headquarters. The children, selected by social service agencies, are economically deprived or had to be removed from their family homes, Bolio says. This year’s event was Sunday.

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