© 2023 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Tis The Season? Not For The Office Holiday Party.

The law firm Foulston Siefkin celebrates its 100th anniversary last year at Distillery 244 in Old Town. The company has cancelled its holiday party this year.

Thankfully, 2020 is coming to a close.

There's only a couple of months remaining in what has been an usually stressful and difficult year for just about everybody.

But before it leaves, 2020 has made a mess of one more tradition: the holiday office party.

The pandemic has made social gatherings a risky venture. Many companies, in fact, have told employees to work from home, so inviting them all in for a party seems counterintuitive.

The business website 247WallSt.com said nearly 80% of companies held a Christmas party for employees in 2019. This year, that’s expected to be down to about 20%, and most of those will be virtual.

Crystal McDonald is co-owner of Xclusive Events, which offers event planning and staffing. She said the last three months of 2019 were her busiest months of the year, with holiday parties driving much of the business.

Credit Courtesy Crystal McDonald
XClusive Events owner Crystal McDonald, left, with Aharon Hoopes, Events by Ashley owner Ashley Moore-Labus, and Xclusive co-owner Cody Lathrop at a holiday party in 2019.

"We were just jam packed … even during the week. We had weeknight events. We couldn't even keep up," she said. "We had eight, nine, 10 events on the weekends. It was just nonstop crazy."

But, fast forward to 2020, and "my calendar is very clear these days," McDonald said.

She said companies tend to book their next holiday party right after they finish one because of the limited number of weekend dates available in November and December. She was booked solid, she said, before companies started to cancel in the spring and early summer.

McDonald estimates 80 to 90% of her holiday party business has dried up. And she understands why, given the way the pandemic has changed how employees work.

"They're still working from home or there's still like virtual half and half: Some are going to the office … if they are needed, then some aren't,” she said. "So why get everyone together and risk it?

"So, yeah, they’re not having company parties anymore."

One of the companies that has cancelled its holiday party is the law firm Foulston Siefkin. Last year, it had a luncheon for more than 100 employees at the Wichita Country Club.

Cindy Hague, the company’s director of administration, said holiday gatherings — and other special events during the year — help build community at the firm.

"It's a very casual way for everyone to sort of connect and wish each other well for the holidays and just have some downtime … because we usually have a sprint right before that holiday in different areas," Hague said. "And so it's nice to settle back just a little bit and relax.

"So I know we're going to miss that."

Although employees are disappointed by the decision, Hague said they also know why a holiday gathering doesn’t make sense in 2020.

"I was a part of a (remote) meeting about a departmental party that was not going to happen," Hague said. "And so you can chat, and we saw some sad emojis and that sort of thing.

"But I also think people understand, and while they're going to miss it, too, many of them would not be comfortable with it."

Ashley Moore owns Events and Design By Ashley The Collective. She also has seen her holiday party business drop by 80%.

She said not only do companies have to consider their employees’ safety when holding a holiday gathering, but many also invite customers to their events.

"A big party in close proximity was not in their best interest this year," Moore said.

But she said it’s still possible — with a little creativity — for companies to celebrate the holidays and let their employees know they are appreciated.

"So we've tried to encourage people to think outside the box with that and not feel as though the party is the only way to do that," Moore said. "So … a Secret Santa or making special deliveries on porches, things like that, that they can do in lieu of that celebration."

That’s what Moore said she is planning for her company, which has 15 employees.

They normally have their holiday gathering in November, ahead of what is — except this year — a traditionally busy time.

"We decided to put together a little care package for each one of our teammates, and we're going to do door deliveries," Moore said. Those packages will include baked goods, gift certificates for coffee and some company swag.

"We're taking the money that we would have spent on a party, and we're able to give them a little bit more of a tangible gift," she said.

Moore acknowledged that finding just the right gift that suits an individual employee is more of a challenge for larger companies.

"We're going to be able to personalize the celebration piece of it a little bit more by taking time to think about what each person likes, but not everybody has that luxury," Moore said. "But they do have the luxury of gifting and still making that a special time for their employees."

Hague with Foulston Siefkin said company officials have talked about some alternatives to their holiday party this year but haven’t found one they like.

But they aren’t letting the disappointment of 2020 prevent them from looking ahead.

"I believe we've already booked our 2021," Hague said. "We're … truly hoping that we're able to do that particular event and our other events that we have in the holiday season next year."

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is a board member of the Public Media Journalists Association, serving as small station representative, a volunteer coach for League 42 and an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.