For and Against – Christmas party? I think not.

Standing at the check-out next to the racks of sweets at my local Marks & Spencer earlier this month, I noticed one very bashed miniature chocolate Father Christmas. No hope of that one bringing joy in the forthcoming festive season.

I suspect many of us are feeling like that choccy Santa. Public sector workers are facing unprecedented change and many private sector companies have laid off staff and made cuts in many areas in response to turbulent business conditions.

So time for a big Xmas bash where those of us who are left can drown our sorrows and for a couple of hours forget Father Christmas may be carrying a P45 with our name on it in his little magic sack. I think not. Those in charge of organisations’ Christmas celebrations may do well to gauge the corporate mood. And decide to do something different this year.

My objection to extravagant Xmas celebrations is not solely on the grounds of cost, although it is warped commercial priorities that spends heavily on Yuletide festivities while demanding cuts in more essential areas of expenditure. What message does that send to current employees? Downsizing and redundancies are a fact of life, particularly in times of recession, but recently published research from Cranfield School of Management has shown that for employees that remain in the organisation this does not necessarily have to be a bad experience. How surviving employees feel, depends largely on the action of the management.

The author of the research Kusum Sahdev says that the key is how organisations manage the impact on the ‘survivors’. In difficult times, taking a proactive and positive approach that fosters trust, commitment and motivation can result in resilient, happy and productive employees. Having a huge Christmas celebration is not the way to foster trust, commitment or motivation.

Cranfield’s four-year research programme was carried out by studying how four organisations in different sectors dealt with downsizing. Each of the organisations were facing different external pressures. One of the key findings was that leaders of organisations had to act credibly.

At all times, leaders must be aware that their actions are observed closely by those below them, but this is particularly true in a downturn.

Acting inappropriately, not just over the Xmas bash, but in other ways such as protecting their peers and leading the high life when employees are facing difficult times can breed long-term cynicism and contempt.

In other words this year’s celebrations must be in tune with the zeitgeist.

A final thought: being cautious doesn’t mean being cheap. So buying reject, slightly bashed chocolate Father Christmases from M&S as a token pressie would not go down well with the staff. Happy Christmas.

  • Peter Williams is a freelance writer.

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