A staff ‘knees-up’ is for business survival…not just for Christmas

Alongside redundancies, pay freezes and scrapped bonuses, one of the most heavily publicised cut backs in corporate life has been within the arena of corporate hospitality.

In November, a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) revealed that 77 per cent of private sector companies were prepared to provide a Christmas party or lunch for staff last year, down from 84 per cent in 2007.

Banking staff were particularly badly hit by companies "cancelling Christmas" with The Times reporting that even financial giants such as Barclays and Morgan Stanley had decided not to fund a festive party for their employees.

Staff motivational or teambuilding events have now been categorised with the annual festive bash as an "optional" corporate spend. One that can and should be cut in a downturn. Budgets for employee events have been squeezed across the board and in the last few months we have even hosted employees who have had to foot the bill for a team bonding event themselves.

When the relative cost of an event for staff is measured against other more costly business outgoings it becomes apparent that the decision to cut an affordable Christmas party or teambuilding activity is perhaps more of a strategic piece of PR than a sensible expenditure-reducing exercise. It is also questionable whether the money saved from staff hospitality will outweigh the benefits it would have brought in terms of improved morale and boosted performance.

Helical Bar, a London-based property development and investment company, stuck doggedly by holding their annual Christmas party with us last year. Duncan Walker, a senior development executive for the company comments: “Yearly rewarding staff with a Christmas party is important for us and last year it was a non-negotiable. It is important that businesses carry on with as much a sense of normality as possible to inspire and maintain confidence. There is a need for pragmatism when it comes to reducing outgoings. Treating staff is not really something which can be cut as it is essential to long-term stability.”

BDA London, a leading corporate gift company, also bucked the trend by confirming their twice yearly "morale-boosting" staff get-together with us. Director Kathy Montague says: “Staff are one of our best assets and must be kept buoyed-up in order to perform well and feel confident about our business. It is short-sighted of businesses to cut opportunities to treat staff during these challenging times. There is a general feeling of insecurity, regardless of whether you work for an organisation riding out the economic storm or not and this is the time they need encouragement most.”

Companies do have to be streamlined in their spending at the moment but why not invest in staff performing at their best instead of playing a short-sighted scrooge? And, if you are really astute with your expenditure, you will even remember to claim back the VAT!

Anna Venturi is managing director of Venturi’s Table Corporate Cookery Centre.

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