Employer Sponsorship of Holiday Parties Down; But Gift Giving, Paid Time Off, Sponsorship of Charitable Activities Up Over Last Year’s Levels

Employers seem to have sputtered out this year in their sponsorship of year-end party celebrations and charitable giving. Where employers were substantially more likely in 2010 than 2009 to sponsor nearly all types of year-end party giving, provide gifts, and engage in charitable activities, this will not be the case in 2011.

Employers will be less likely than last year to shoulder the full costs of their companywide parties. Participation and sponsorship of charitable activities has increased since last year but only marginally. One bright spot is that employer gift giving will increase over year-ago levels. And due to the fact that Christmas and New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, employers will be more likely than they were last year to offer extended holiday leave.

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 392 U.S. employers.

Gifts to employees will increase for the second straight year.Forty-six percent of surveyed employers will give their workers some type of year-end holiday gift or bonus, up from 41 percent of employers in 2010 and 33 percent in 2009. Gift giving is at a five-year high, rebounding from the low established in 2009.

There has been no significant change since last year in employer-sponsored companywide parties.Fifty-six percent of employers report that they will sponsor some sort of companywide holiday party this year, little changed from a year ago (58 percent) but a 6 percentage point increase over the 50 percent of companies that reported hosting company parties in 2009. That figure still does not reverse the precipitous 14-point decline that occurred from 2008 to 2009 (from 64 percent to 50 percent).

Organizations are evenly divided between those that will or will not allow workers to invite spouses or other guests to attend year-end companywide celebrations. Half of surveyed employers (50 percent) say they will allow guests of their employees to attend their year-end companywide parties, little changed from the 52 percent of employers that permitted spouses or other guests to attend these parties in 2010. There has, however, been a declining secular trend in the proportion of employers that are opening up their parties to guests of employees. In 2005, more than six in 10 employers (62 percent) were laying out the welcome mat for spouses and guests.

Although little changed from last year, there has been a sharp decline in the availability of alcoholic beverages at year-end parties since 2008.Fifty-five percent of surveyed employers will be serving alcoholic beverages at their parties in 2011, essentially unchanged from the 56 percent that made alcohol available in 2010. Nevertheless, there has been a clear declining trend since 2008 when nearly two-thirds of employers (65 percent) served alcohol at their year-end party celebrations.

Most organizations are instituting at least some measures to limit overindulgence and safeguard guests. Out of concern for their employees, as well as concern for protecting themselves from legal liability, companies have adopted measures to monitor and limit excessive alcohol consumption at year-end celebrations. Nearly two-thirds of employers (65 percent) will task bartenders with monitoring alcohol consumption. Other measures will include limiting times when alcohol is served (51 percent), offering taxi service for employees and guests (48 percent), providing discounted hotel rates to encourage overnight stays (28 percent), and appointing designated drivers (7 percent).

Some organizations will also sponsor other year-end celebrations.In addition to companywide holiday parties, 37 percent of employers will sponsor events at the unit or department level (essentially unchanged from 36 percent in 2010), and 35 percent will host informal holiday parties-sponsored and funded by employees-to be held on company time (down from 39 percent the previous year).

Participation in charitable activities will be up slightly over year-ago levels.More than two-thirds of employers (67 percent) plan to sponsor or participate in one or more charitable activities in 2011, up 3 percentage points from 2010, but a significant increase from 2009 levels (59 percent).

Holiday leave will be more generous this year than last. With Christmas and New Year’s falling on a Sunday, 42 percent of employers will grant workers three or more days off with pay. In contrast, 36 percent granted three or more days paid leave during the 2010-2011 holiday season.

Manufacturers and smaller organizations typically will have more generous holiday leave policies. Manufacturing companies (70 percent) are much more likely than nonmanufacturing companies (37 percent) or nonbusiness concerns (31 percent) to give employees three or more days of paid vacation. Among smaller employers, with fewer than 1,000 workers, 44 percent will provide three or more paid holidays during Christmas and New Year’s, compared with 32 percent of larger employers.