The office holiday party is making a comeback whether you like it or not


United Wholesale Mortgage had great reason to celebrate at this year’s holiday party.

A Pontiac, Michigan company has become the nation’s largest mortgage lender in 2022, so executives treated employees to a night of glitz and glam with a Hollywood-themed holiday celebration this past weekend at Detroit’s cavernous Huntington Place Convention Center.

The staff walked a red carpet lined with the words “paparazzi” and took pictures in front of Maseratis, Porsches and limousines. Sip cocktails and dine on lobster pot pie. After speeches and toasts, the big surprise: performances by rapper Ludacris and country-pop duo Dan + Shay.

“You know you’re a hit when you see all of your team sing every song with Ludacris,” said UWM Chief Personnel Officer Laura Lawson.

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The return of the in-person holiday party—think ugly sweater contests and secret Santa gift exchanges—markes a return to the kinds of gatherings that traditionally punctuate the end of the year in the workplace. It is an opportunity for companies, especially those with hybrid or remote employees, to bring employees together in one place after a few years full of challenges and changes. For some workers who have not yet returned to the office, this may be the first personal introduction to colleagues or bosses.

Personal holiday gatherings are returning at an odd moment, as the tug-of-war over hybrid work continues and the specter of a 2023 recession looms in the form of layoffs and hiring freezes.

But many companies, large and small, decide to host year-end parties, some of which are very lively. PitchBook is expecting more than 1,100 guests at the 007-James Bond celebration at a warehouse-turned-concert venue in Seattle. (The entertainment is still kept under wraps, but the company’s last gig featured Flo Rida.) Google warned its employees earlier this year to moderate expectations for year-end festivities, according to CNBC. Google spokesperson Ryan Lamont confirmed that the company hosts some small, personal gatherings for the holidays.

In its first holiday party since 2019, the Society for Human Resource Management didn’t hold back. The group’s log cabin celebration on the roof of the Hall of States in Washington is expected to draw 400, more than double its attendance last weekend, according to Donté Clavo, owner of the Clavo Group, who planned the affair. Staff can try and make hot chocolate, cider, and s’mores in a 360-degree photo booth. The party will feature heated tents, fire pits, branded blankets and live music,

“We are using this as an opportunity to get people excited about our future,” said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., CEO of SHRM.

However, not all companies celebrate. several months ago, Taylor said the companies were planning heavily to pool their workforces for year-end parties. But in the past few weeks, Taylor has heard from some corporate executives who are rethinking. Some worry that the coronavirus will spread in cold weather; Others, worried about the optics of holding elaborate post-cut soirees and talking about economic woes, are canceling the holiday party altogether.

“It’s not that we can’t afford it,” Taylor said. “It’s the message, the perception that we can’t, on the one hand, sell an environment of austerity and then throw a holiday party.”

Kelly Shipp, chief personnel officer at Crunchbase, a mining software platform, was supposed to be on a plane to California this week for the company’s costume party. It was to be a “great” event for 500 guests to celebrate the season and get out of the pandemic.

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But last month, when the tech space was rocked by layoff announcements from giants like Meta and Twitter and dozens of smaller companies, the company’s executive team decided to cancel.

Crunchbase will actually be celebrating with a “warm hot cocoa party,” Shoaib said. Employees were required to wear comfortable clothes and “buy all the killer hot cocoa items.”

“It felt wrong to throw a party, given what is happening in the economy,” Shoaib said. “For now it’s about taking responsibility.”

Holiday party plans are ebb and flow with the job market, according to Andy Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which has been polling companies for year-end celebrations for nearly 20 years.

Despite the economic storm clouds, Challenger said, few businesses are going virtual with festivities this year, with the majority opting for in-person events for the first time since 2019. The number of businesses planning to serve alcohol is the highest since the company started tracking, Challenger said. Holiday party planning.

At a time of heightened tension over back-to-the-office policies, Challenger said, many companies are eager to use holiday parties as a way to highlight the benefits of being present on a personal level. The executives he spoke with seemed particularly optimistic about the opportunity to network with Generation Z employees, some of whom had never attended an in-person ceremony in the office before.

“We see companies spending money on their parties when they want to invest in their culture,” Challenger said. “They’re trying to promote the idea of ​​being in the office again.”

Pivot Design’s Holiday Party Is “Very Serious Business,” He said Topher McCulloch, director of development and technology for the Chicago firm. The company has nearly doubled its mattress count during the pandemic. However, with most employees only entering the office once a week, many have not experienced being around all of their colleagues.

The company has outgrown its office space and not all employees have full-time desks, so on the day of the holiday party, employees are crammed into conference rooms and the kitchen. McCulloch said the fullness gave the office a “festive feel”.

The all-day affair started with mimosas and donuts and evolved into a taco lunch and a company “Secret Santa extravaganza” in the afternoon. Later, the party moved to a tiki bar for dinner and drinks, where visitors were invited to join.

“It’s good to put some intention behind reasons to be personal, rather than just being there five days a week because that’s what you do,” McCulloch said.

Despite continued pressure from executives to return, many downtown offices are still about half full as they were in pre-pandemic times, according to security pass data tracked by Kastle Systems across 10 of the country’s major metro areas. .

But holiday parties are very popular this year. From Fortune 500 companies to small businesses, in-person parties appear to be back to pre-pandemic numbers, according to Ari Dressen, CEO of event software company RSVPify.

“Really everyone who used to host a holiday party considers coming back into the fold,” Dressen said.

A few RSVPify clients host virtual pools. Some go classic, with ugly sweater contests and office karaoke. some companies that Their ranks grew but they abandoned their offices, turning holiday celebrations into multi-day events. They rent out fancy venues like convention centers or museums, making use of unused party budgets from the past few years.

“Maybe your headquarters are in Chicago, but you decide, ‘Hey, let’s meet in Austin, or somewhere warm like Miami,'” Dressen said.

Basic Fun — home of the popular Care Bears, Tonka Trucks and Lite-Brite — is hosting its first holiday party since 2019 at an upscale bowling bar in Boca Raton, Florida, with DJs, dart boards, and raffle prizes like gift cards and fitness gear.

Its Florida employees have been back in the office four days a week for more than a year, CEO Jay Foreman said, but this will be the first time since the pandemic that everyone from all of Basic Fun’s offices has come together. He is expecting 120 people and hopes that the staff can enjoy the opportunity to let go.

“I think the issue is just leaving the mask at home,” Foreman said. “It’s time to move on.”

ClaimsXchange, a trade group for lawyers and insurance claims specialists, held its party at New York’s Tiro a Segno, a private Italian club featuring an underground rifle and black tie outfit. November 30 ceremony coincided With the Rockefeller Tree Lighting Ceremony, CEO Sidney Posner said.

The group held a concert last year, but severe concerns still affected attendees. This year, Posner said, people traveled from all over the world, and the atmosphere was undoubtedly “warm and fuzzy.” Her favorite part was the after party at a bar down the street.

“There was a hug this year,” said Posner. “Last year, it was like, ‘Maybe I need a fist bump. “