Are office Christmas parties worth it?

By Daniel Thomas
Business reporter

Man with drink sleeping at desk after Christmas partyImage source, Thinkstock
Image caption,
Many people may overindulge at work parties, particularly when free alcohol is provided

It's office Christmas party season again, and many of us will be attending shindigs in the coming weeks.

But do we appreciate these events or find them tiresome obligations? And what do our employers gain from putting them on beyond not looking like Scrooges?

Kyle Clark MacKenzie works at City Barbers in Inverness and will be going to his work do next week.

"It's good for team morale. It's the one time of the year you all get together and have a few drinks with the boss," he tells the BBC.

But engineer David Pearson, who is also going to a party, is more cynical. "It's a bit of fun but I wouldn't be bothered if they didn't hold one," he says.

"I also think companies feel they have to do something at this time of year, when they ought to do a bit more for staff during the rest of the year."

Image caption,
Kyle Clark MacKenzie says work Christmas parties are good for building team morale

According to a survey of 700 office workers in 2014, about a quarter said they looked forward to office Christmas parties, while four out of 10 were ambivalent and a fifth said they hated the events.

Reasons for not wanting to go included bad restaurant choices, having to spend even more time with colleagues you already dislike and feeling pressured to get drunk.

Company culture

But Hakan Enver, operations director at recruitment firm Morgan McKinley, says companies are still better off putting on an event than avoiding one.

"It's a great way of helping celebrate the culture of a company beyond just business success," he says.

"It also helps your staff get to know each other - particularly when the company is large - and shows that you are happy for them to let their hair down at the end of the year."

Michael Korel is the events manager for a number of Waterstones bookshops in west London. He is organising a "booze and pizza party" for the Kensington High Street branch.

Image caption,
Michael Korel says it is "really important" for workplaces to have festive parties

"Christmas for us is flat out - while everyone else is having fun we are working, and so it is really nice to have an evening and come together and have some fun.

"I think the staff really appreciate it and it is well worth the investment."

Inappropriate behaviour

That said, such events are not without their risks - particularly when a vast amount of free alcohol is provided.

Media caption,
If you're planning an office Christmas party, check out these top tips

Hakan Enver says the "excitement can get to people" and they may behave inappropriately.

"You need to be aware you are on company time and you have all your business leaders in the room," he advises. "It is not a time and place to bring out your challenges and frustrations about work - that should be done in the office."

Moreover, while employers can claim tax back on holding an event, the cost can still be high.

According to research by event promotions website Eventbrite, firms splashed out almost £1bn on parties in the UK last Christmas, spending on average £42.48 per employee.

But that varied wildly across the country - from just £12.36 per head in Northern Ireland to £56.49 a head in Greater London, with some events costing considerably more.

Image source, Ulrik Tofte
Image caption,
About a quarter of us look forward to office Christmas parties, but around a fifth hate the events

Andy Yates, an entrepreneur who invests in and advises businesses, says this money could be better spent elsewhere.

"Too many employers put money behind the bar and don't think any more about it, but it doesn't really boost staff morale in the long run.

"It may be better to hold smaller, more frequent team-building events, or to focus on things like flexible working hours and bonuses."

Giving it a miss

Of course, quite a few firms choose not to hold events, with Eventbrite putting the figure at 28% last year.

One example is Craved, a start-up that sells craft food and drink and employs 10 full-time and seasonal staff. Founder David Voxlin says December is its busiest month and it just wouldn't be practical.

"The last thing our staff want to do after working 60 to 80-hour weeks through December is to have a party," he says.

"That said, during the year we have a tasting session for new products every Friday afternoon, so we do have social time as a company."

Love them or hate them, Christmas parties are here to stay - and they appear to be evolving.

"We're seeing a rise in the non-traditional office Christmas party, centred around themed activities - such as cooking a team Christmas meal together or making Christmas jumpers," says Eventbrite marketing director Marino Fresch.

"The days of a few streamers in the office and a bowl of dubious punch seem to be in the past."