Party Over

COVID-19 has flipped the script on the office holiday party, with just 23% of businesses saying they plan to hold one, virtually or otherwise, this year. That’s a reversal from 2019, when 76% of businesses held a party.

Parties are not happening in Peoria—and elsewhere.

Just 23% of companies who responded to a survey by the outplacement company Challenger, Gray and Christmas said they plan a year-end celebration this year, a complete reversal from the 76% who held parties last year.

Of the 189 businesses that responded to the annual survey, just 1.3% said they planned to go ahead with a traditional party with no restrictions.

That doesn’t mean the desire for a holiday party is any less, said Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

“I think the idea is companies still would like to try to get people together,” Challenger said.

“Even if it’s only virtually, to do something other than talk about business, like getting people together within an organization to connect with each other, in some way is meaningful.”

The annual holiday party is important to staff at the Phoenix IT company Adopt Technologies, said Brett Helgeson, president and CEO.

“We genuinely like hanging out with each other,” Helgeson said.

Office culture is vital, and the office party is one way for co-workers to connect, he said. With so many employees working from home because of the pandemic, he said it “was even more critical that we get together in some fashion and have some sort of event.”

But not everyone in the office is comfortable with larger gatherings, so this year’s party will be shaped by COVID-19.

“We want to be really conscientious and respectful of all parties, but at the same point in time, afford people the opportunity to get together,” Helgeson said.

“Kind of the first thing that we’re going to be doing is a virtual happy hour where we’re hiring a mixologist,” he said. “Then the second thing that we’re going to do, which will include the families, is going to be a pop-up movie, where we’re all going to go to a drive-in theater.”

Challenger agreed that holiday parties are an integral part of an office environment.

He said workers may spend about eight hours a day with their officemates, but the holiday party and other gatherings help create stronger bonds.

Challenger believes the holiday party will come back as soon as companies feel safe.

“I think there’s a real loss this year for not being able to have it,” he said. “There’s all these just really human, community elements of a holiday party that you don’t get to see almost any other time of the year.”