Holiday parties dwindling, but far from extinct

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You would think we’re still in the midst of boom times, judging by the recent holiday party hosted by the Las Vegas law firm Marquis Aurbach Coffing.

The gathering featured a no-host bar, catered food and cash prizes for the firm’s 110 employees, all in the private VIP section of Red Rock Resort’s bowling alley. The total price tag: $20,000.

“The employees who work so hard all year long deserve something more than their salary and their annual Christmas bonus,” founding partner Al Marquis said. “It’s been a tradition. We’ve done it every year that I can remember.”

But many businesses are saying forget it to the traditional holiday party as the nation enters the fifth year of the worst economy since the 1930s. Ninety percent of the nation’s employers held such gatherings in 2007. This year, not even 70 percent will do so, according to a survey of 100 human resources executives conducted by the global executive recruitment firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. A significant percentage of employers recognize the benefits to company morale of hosting such events, said John Challenger, CEO of the Chicago-based firm.

“While some companies are seeing improvements, most are still stuck in first gear and continue to hold off on hiring, equipment upgrades and other big expenditures,” he said. “Yet despite the less-than-celebratory business conditions, the majority of companies refuse to abandon the year-end holiday party.”

Red Rock Resort has been the beneficiary of companies spending 3 percent more per holiday office partygoer than they did a year ago. Nonetheless, the number of parties held and the amount of money spent on them remains down from the peak year of 2006.

“There have been a lot of last-minute bookings as decisions were being made and companies were feeling more comfortable about the current economy and where they want their spending levels to be,” said Lori Nelson, Station Casinos’ director of corporate communications.

Marquis, the senior law firm partner, has been a rodeo competitor and remains a cowboy poet and small-plane pilot who lives in rural Sandy Valley on a sizable piece of land. A uniquely western character, he says working in a law office can be extremely stressful with all the demands that come from short timelines, emergency court filings and 12- to 14-hour workdays, six days a week.

The holiday party is one of multiple perks offered to Marquis Aurbach Coffing employees, who also are the beneficiaries of free daily meals prepared by an on-site chef, an ever-present beer keg that’s routinely tapped by staff members and a weekly table tennis tournament that includes prizes.

“We work on short timelines, often under emergency conditions. The party gives people a chance to socialize while we show our thanks,” Marquis said.



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