As the holiday season rolls around, few companies seem to be in a festive mood. The bad economy has businesses tightening their purse strings, trimming off superfluous items like traditional holiday parties. Don't let the bad economy be a party-pooper. There are ways to get in the spirit without going into debt.

Holiday parties have long been a fixture in business. It's always been a time of the year when owners show their appreciation by giving back to their employees.

This year, though, employers are feeling less like Santa and more like Scrooge. Blame it on a bad economy, which has caused a credit crunch and declining consumer confidence. According to event planners, the impact of the economic downturn is taking a significant bite out of holiday office parties, and causing companies to use innovative ways to fund the fun.

Holiday cheer without saying "Cheers!"

Event planners have noted the historic parallel between the state of the economy and the traditional office party. The trend holds true this year. According to an annual survey conducted by the New York-based executive search firm, Battalia Winston Amrop, only 81 percent of businesses will hold a holiday party. This is the lowest level in 20 years.

Event planners also note a significant decrease in the size of the party, as employers are scaling back the costs by nearly 40 percent. Top on the hit list is alcohol. Free drinks are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, which will make a company's accounting and legal teams happy. Less libations also mean less liability for an organization.

Holiday parties on the cheap

Yes, Virginia, there are still office parties, but they're going to be significantly different from years past. Businesses are adopting thrifty new ways to save an extra buck and maintain the same level of fun.

  • Bring a dish: Instead of spending hundreds (or thousands) on a caterer, businesses may ask employees to bring a dish to share.
  • Downsizing the entertainment. If last year's event included a rockin' band, don't be surprised if the live music is scrapped. It's much cheaper to hire a DJ-or, in the age of the iPod, ask employees to bring in their own music mix.
  • Skip the gift exchange. This may be the season to bypass gift giving. Perhaps the hat could be passed around to drum up a donation for a local food pantry, or some organization that's really struggling over the holidays.

While the bad economy is making day-to-day life difficult, it's also having an impact on special occasions, like holiday parties. Businesses are no longer as eager to turn on the holiday cheer, considering the state of their bottom lines. If your company holds a business party, you're lucky. Even if some of the fun is curtailed by a tight budget, having a job in these tough times might be the best gift you could receive.

Published on December 1, 2008