Holiday office parties, bonuses on the rise in 2007

Employers are expressing gratitude in the form of more holiday parties and paid leave, while participation in charitable activities has dropped substantially from 2006 and 2005. Gift items are becoming rare, as cash and bonuses have replaced the traditional holiday turkey.

For more than two decades, BNA's Year-End Holiday Practices Survey has offered an annual snapshot of companies' plans for marking the year's end and recognizing employees' contributions with benefits like paid time off, special holiday work schedules, holiday parties and celebrations, employee gifts and bonuses, and holiday charity. This year's results are based on the responses of human resources executives representing 210 U.S. employers.

Survey highlights include:

  • Companywide holiday parties are enjoying unprecedented popularity and employer spending appears to be rising. Two-thirds of employers will sponsor a holiday party, tying the record set last year. Most employers will pay the full cost of these parties without contributions from workers.

  • Fewer employers will be participating in charitable activities. Fifty-eight percent of all employers plan to be involved in community activities, such as toy, food or clothing drives. This continues a trend that saw a drop from 72 percent in 2004 and 2005 to 66 percent in 2006.

  • Employers are less inclined to present gifts to employees, opting for cash or bonuses. In 2007, 12 percent of surveyed organizations will give gifts to non-management employees, and only 10 percent will give gift items to managers and supervisors. On the other hand, about 32 percent will give holiday bonuses to management employees and 28 percent will do the same for nonmanagement staff.

    Additional findings include:

  • The 2007 calendar encourages more generous paid leave at Christmas and New Year's. The fact that both Christmas and New Year's fall on Tuesday this holiday season has created favorable conditions for extended weekends. This may explain why more than six in ten organizations (63 percent) have scheduled three or more paid holidays during the 2007-2008 Christmas/New Year's season compared with 43 percent during the 2006-2007 year-end holiday season.

  • Manufacturing firms grant the most paid holiday leave. Eighty-six percent of manufacturing firms will provide at least three paid holidays during the Christmas and New Year's season, well above the figures in the nonmanufacturing (58 percent) or nonbusiness sector (54 percent).

  • Despite extensive paid leave, a sizeable minority of establishments will require holiday shifts. More than one third of employers (36 percent) will require that some workers be on hand this Christmas, New Year's Day or both. As in the past, service/maintenance and security/public safety workers are the most likely to be drafted for year-end holiday work.

  • Employers continue to adopt policies limiting the acceptance of gifts. To minimize potential conflicts of interest, employers have adopted policies on accepting gifts from clients, customers and other outside associates. A small minority of organizations allow no gifts of any kind (15 percent). Most employers allow gifts of "nominal value" (52 percent), or set limits on the value of gifts (15 percent) – usually between $25 and $50. Only 16 percent of surveyed employers have no company policy on accepting gifts.

  • Companies are less likely to serve alcoholic beverages. While alcohol will still be widely available at company-wide parties, the proportion of organizations that will make alcoholic beverages available in 2007 (59 percent) is lower than it was in 2006 (64 percent).

  • Organizations that will be serving alcohol are taking steps to limit excessive drinking and protect guests. Among the measures organizations are putting in place are using bartenders or other personnel to monitor consumption (72 percent), limiting the times alcohol can be served (54 percent), offering cab service for employees or guests who may be too drunk to drive (45 percent), and providing discounted hotel rates (28 percent). Since 2006, there has been a noticeable increase (from 45 percent to 54 percent) in the organizations that set time limits on serving alcohol to guests.

    Survey data were collected from September 25 to October 12, 2007 using a Web-based questionnaire. A total of 210 employers represented by their human resource executives participated. Of these, 24 percent were manufacturing firms, 40 percent were nonmanufacturing companies, and 35 percent were nonbusiness concerns, such as government employers, hospitals, educational institutions, and other nonprofits. Seventy-nine percent of the participating organizations employ fewer than 1,000 workers, while 21 percent have workforces of 1,000 or more employees. Nonunion establishments make up 80 percent of the survey sample, while the remaining 20 percent employ at least some union-represented workers.

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