More cheer for holiday work parties as economic conditions improve -- Gazette.Net


Each holiday season in recent years, the 50 employees at Payroll Network exchange gifts, collect toys and coats for the needy and attend a company luncheon.

The Rockville payroll and human resources services company is recovering from the Great Recession nicely, with revenues expected to reach $7 million this year, about double from pre-recession levels in 2006, said George A. Whitehouse, executive vice president and chief marketing officer. Therefore, the business can spend a little more on things like a holiday celebration, which is a good morale booster, he said.

“We don’t always have the opportunity to get together informally,” Whitehouse said. “We’re doing a little more this year. We had our luncheon at Lakewood Country Club, which is a very nice facility. Prior to that, we went to a restaurant.”

That’s in line with recent national surveys of human resources managers.

“For many companies, 2012 probably feels like the first time in a while that there is reason to celebrate,” said Rick Cobb, executive vice president of Chicago outplacement and business coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

About 83 percent of companies nationally are holding year-end gatherings, up from 68 percent last year, according to a recent Challenger survey. And 17 percent are spending more, an increase from only 3 percent who said they would spend more last year.

Another poll by New York executive search firm Battalia Winston placed the level of companies holding parties at 91 percent, up from 74 percent last year and the highest percentage since pre-recession 2006. The firm has conducted similar surveys for 24 years and found them to be reliable barometers of economic conditions and corporate confidence.

More companies are hiring caterers, event planners and other outside vendors for their parties at 63 percent compared with 45 percent a year ago, according to the Challenger survey.

At Martin’s Camelot in Upper Marlboro, which features a medieval-themed grand ballroom that can hold 1,000 people, bookings are up 25 percent over last year.

“We’re seeing people starting to loosen up purse strings a little bit,” said Thomas Yockel, general manager. “Where a party might have had 200 people last year, this year it has 250.”

Martin’s gave heavy discounts last year to attract business and shied away from doing that this year, he said. “We discounted way too heavily last year, and that hurt us, so we’re not doing that this year,” Yockel said.

Avoiding the rush

Some companies hold parties after the rush of such events, when rental rates for sites tend to be lower and times are less hectic.

Bethesda information technology and business consulting company Digital Management Inc. traditionally waits until mid-January, said Laura Florek, senior marketing manager. This year’s event will be at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., the same venue as last year, she said.

“Our holiday party is a highly anticipated event every year, and we schedule it in January because our team is less likely to have to choose between a family event and our party,” Florek said.

Party themes are often important, especially if a company wants to emphasize a particularly noteworthy accomplishment. DMI’s theme this year is “Mad Men” because the company doubled in size again this year to 1,200 employees, Florek said. DMI had revenues of $103.1 million last year and has made Inc. magazine’s list of the fastest-growing private businesses in the nation for the past six years. CEO Jay Sunny Bajaj expected the business to have more than $200 million in revenues this year.

“Last year, we went with a red-carpet theme,” Florek said. “Our party will be much bigger than it was last year.”

For its catered holiday luncheon on Thursday, logistics and freight business ICAT Logistics employed a “Winter Wonderland” theme and decorated the home office in Elkridge.

“We play a ‘Holiday Jeopardy’ game, where everyone wins a gift card,” said Michele Pohuski, corporate administration manager. “We do a voluntary gift exchange. We are also having a small surprise for the employees this year — gift bags with different things for each team member.”

Besides a lunch and gift exchange, Rockville investment firm Kendall Capital Management sends clients a holiday present, President Clark A. Kendall said. “It’s something with our logo on it, so they will remember us throughout the year,” he said.

Holiday parties do not have to be fancy to be meaningful, Cobb said. “A small company on a tight budget can easily host a potluck lunch,” he said.

Combining with fundraiser

Many companies traditionally combine their parties with a fundraiser for a charity, and that is increasing this year as well. The percentage responding to the Battalia survey that said they are donating money or goods to charity rose to 51 percent from 39 percent last year.

The Prince George’s County Association of Realtors raised more than $4,000 and about 320 pounds of food during its annual holiday event to help the “working poor,” said Anthony Williams, group president who works for Long & Foster Real Estate in Mitchellville. The group also collected 18 bags of winter coats.

“When people think of poverty, they usually think of joblessness,” Williams said. “But today there are many people in Prince George’s County who are working but are still unable to put food on the table or buy the everyday necessities for their families.”

The Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce collected 85 pounds of food and $90 for Manna Food Center, which serves Montgomery County residents, during a food drive last week. Blu Water Day Spa & Salon in Kensington on Thursday held an auction to raise funds for Aubrey Clark, a 17-year-old burn survivor.

More companies offering year-end bonuses

Just as companies are loosening purse string for year-end parties, more are offering employee bonuses, with 72 percent doing so compared with 53 percent a year ago, according to the Challenger survey. Some 25 percent are increasing the bonuses from last year, up from 17 percent.

The Battalia survey found a similar increase in businesses offering bonuses — to 69 percent from 48 percent last year.

Payroll Network tends not to give cash bonuses but offers other rewards for employees, Whitehouse said.

“We give turkeys or hams,” he said. “We never got into the routine of [cash bonuses].”

Staff Writer Lindsey Robbins contributed to this report.