Culture   //   December 15, 2023  ■  3 min read

Is anyone going to the company holiday party this year?

Holiday parties present an opportunity for workers across levels to get together, eat, drink, and be merry — and are a key tool employers have always used to foster and strengthen their company culture.

But this year companies are worried about a lack of enthusiasm and participation from staff as they attempt to revive a once beloved pre-pandemic corporate tradition. It’s also as the transition to hybrid work makes some less willing to spend their limited free time attending work-related events.

A survey of food-delivery app GrubHub’s corporate clients found 40% are concerned about staff actually showing up to holiday parties, making it tricky to plan their catering orders. Nearly 70% of the survey respondents said they’re currently back in office in either hybrid or five-day week arrangements.

And despite ongoing financial challenges, the survey somewhat surprisingly found 20% of respondents said they plan to increase their holiday event budgets this year. Across industries, those in financial firms lead by a big margin, with 50% planning to spend more this year. 

About 60% of clients said they’re hosting an in-person event for the holidays, and 40% are holding it at a restaurant or other venue outside of work.

“Food literally brings people together, at a table or a buffet at a holiday party. It's really bringing people together and creating a positive sense of engagement at the employee level."
Jeff Mirmelstein, vp and gm of corporate accounts at Grubhub. 

Getting those planning to not attend or hesitant on whether they should (who are likely less engaged and connected to company culture already) is key for employers wanting to make the best of their holiday parties, said Jeff Mirmelstein, vp and gm of corporate accounts at Grubhub. 

“Food literally brings people together, at a table or a buffet at a holiday party. It’s really bringing people together and creating a positive sense of engagement at the employee level,” Mirmelstein said. 

One way to generate more party attendance is to keep staff in the loop and poll them about which venue they’d like it to be at, at what day and time, and what kind of food they’d like.

“This way, employees feel included in the entire process and would likely feel more inclined to attend,” the report said.

“Companies asking employees to attend events outside work hours may be putting unwanted pressure on them."
Diane Swint, chief revenue officer at ezCater.

Another way to boost attendance is to host the holiday party during work hours. Another survey from corporate catering platform ezCater, among about 500 workers in the U.S., found most prefer to socialize with coworkers during their working hours. 

Some 64% of respondents said they’ve felt obligated to participate in work events outside the office that they didn’t want to join, and about half said they’ve lied to skip an after-hours work event (or snuck out altogether). Ultimately, more than 80% of workers said they wish their companies held more bonding activities and social events during the workday rather than outside of work hours.

“Companies asking employees to attend events outside work hours may be putting unwanted pressure on them,” said EzCater’s chief revenue officer Diane Swint.

“Instead, employers can encourage attendance by hosting parties at the office during traditional work hours. Whether you’re catering a buffet-style meal, appetizers and cocktails, or a dessert bar, employees will appreciate this time to bond and celebrate the year over a shared meal — especially when you respect their personal time,” Swint said.