Traditional holiday parties yield to shopping sprees, cruises, volunteering

Lattice Engine's Boston office participates in Paint Nite, a service that gives painting lessons at bars and restaurants. About 65 employees painted trees on canvas, drank and ate hors d'oeuvres.

NEW YORK — Buddy Di­Fonzo isn’t sure what he’ll buy at his company’s holiday party. That’s right, what he’ll buy – the celebration, a company-sponsored shopping spree, will be at an upscale Dallas mall.


The six employees of consulting firm Idea Harvest will meet at NorthPark Center next week. The bosses will buy lunch, then hand each staffer an envelope with $200 to $300. One crucial requirement: Staffers must spend every penny on themselves.

“This is fantastic for morale and employees look forward to opening those envelopes for weeks,” CEO Mike Solow says. “I hear people talking about it at lunch. It’s awesome.”

Many bosses are ditching traditional holiday parties. Instead, they’re sponsoring shopping sprees and cruises to reward staffers and celebrate at the end of the year. Others are holding parties that include a special activity or are doing volunteer events that they say are good for business.

A variety of factors are behind the change, says Leslie Yerkes, the president of Catalyst Consulting Group in Cleveland. Younger workers aren’t as interested in standard holiday celebrations; the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks made many companies look for events that were meaningful, such as volunteer work; and the last recession curtailed spending on over-the-top affairs.



Employees of Konnect Public Relations are getting a four-day cruise to Mexico starting Friday. The Los Angeles-based company uses the trip as a reward for productivity. Top producers get extras such as upgrades to a suite or spa treatments.

In past years, employees went to Lake Tahoe and toured wine country. Spouses have to stay home, but can attend a special holiday dinner.

The trip for 26 staffers will cost about $15,000, a worthwhile investment, Chief Operating Officer Monica Guzman says.



Lattice Engine’s employees painted while they partied last week at a Boston restaurant. The software company brought in Paint Nite, a service that gives painting lessons at bars and restaurants. About 65 people painted trees on canvas while they drank and ate hors d’oeuvres.

The company holds parties with special activities to encourage staffers to interact with people they don’t know well, officer manager Alicia Thomas says. Employees tend to work quietly in teams, with little contact with other staffers. And a paint party, or the trivia party held last year, is more fun for spouses who might otherwise sit in a corner by themselves.



Nautilus used to have lavish parties with employee gifts such as big-screen TVs. In 2004, the fitness equipment maker decided to focus more on the community, says Wayne Bolio, a senior vice president. So Nautilus began sponsoring an annual shopping trip for children at a Target store near the company’s Vancouver, Wash., headquarters. The children, selected by social service agencies, are economically deprived or had to be removed from their homes, Bolio says.

More than 40 staffers and about two dozen family members volunteered to help about 50 children pick out gifts this year. Each child got to spend about $75. “When you walk out afterward, you say, ‘I feel good about this and I feel good that the company supports it,’ ” Bolio says.


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