It's Time for More of Us to Party with the Boss

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There are all sorts of indicators about the health of the economy, but one of the more fun ones is holiday parties. And a new survey shows that more companies are throwing holiday parties than at any time since the recession began. As Prince sang, it's time to "party like it's 1999."

"This is the fifth year of the recovery, but for some employers and many of their workers this is the first year it actually feel like one," said John Challenger, chief executive officer of the outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Its survey shows 89 percent of the companies that responded plan to host holiday parties this year, up from 82 percent in 2012 and just 68 percent in 2011. (Challenger didn't conduct the survey last year)

"The evidence suggests that times are good. Companies that in tough times might be Scrooge-like and cancel parties now have a sense that the labor market is hot and they want their people to stay," he said. "They want to show their people they are valuable to them."

Better Parties, Too

Not only are more parties being planned, but 18 pecent plan to spend more this year, and nearly 60 percent are using an outside caterer or event planner. "The bottom line is that companies are looking ways to create ties, to cement people to their organizations," according to Challenger. "Having an holiday party is an opportunity not to be missed." He says companies have to engage their workers and make them feel valued to hold on to them as the job market improves.

Jonathan Peters, owner of the high-end catering service David Ellis Events, agrees. He says budgets for corporate holiday events are a bit looser this year, perhaps enabling full bar, high-end decor and valet parking. "They want to service the guest a bit more." However, he says many corporate clients "are still semi-conscious about how they're perceived by the shareholders and clients. It's not the same as it was before the recession, but it is on an upward trend."

Peters says the level of extravagance often depends on the industry. He says technology companies, consulting firms and service businesses are spending more, while other industries are still keeping a tight grip on the budget. Private clients are throwing the most lavish parties. "I have some clients doing a Cirque de Soleil theme. They want to make it seem different. They want a little bit of the wow factor." But he says businesses are not throwing those multimillion dollar bashes of old. "They don't want to be that showy."

Be Our Guest, Network and Behave

No matter the level of extravagance, holiday parties provide a great opportunity for employees to network with their bosses' boss or other higher-ups. While many people may want to party with their co-workers -- the people they know best -- workplace experts say they should break from their comfort zone. Challenger said you should introduce yourself to those who might help your career. "Arrive early and work the room," he advises. "Use it as an opportunity to do some networking inside the company."

But the advice also comes with a warning. More than 40 percent of the companies provide free booze. While this can add to the party's fun, it can also lead to some embarrassing situations if you over-indulge. Challenger says you don't want to do or say something that will hurt your reputation and your chance for advancement. "There are always people who do something that is inappropriate," he said, noting that the "nightmare situation" is something that could be labeled sexual harassment.
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