A new twist on holiday bonuses, parties

A woman opens a holiday gift at work.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: We had Thai food for lunch here at Marketplace the other day, right here on the company dime. The mid-day festivities were in lieu of a bigger, more expensive actual holiday party. It's the second year in a row this and a whole lot of other companies have cut back. Two years of a down economy have changed the way businesses and their employees are celebrating the season.

From Chicago Public Radio, Adrienne Hill reports.


Adrienne Hill: For many workers used to big bonuses and lavish holiday parties, this year could be a let down.

Rosemary Haefner: Bonuses are not a guarantee.

Rosemary Haefner oversees human resources at CareerBuilder.com. A CareerBuilder survey found that less than a third of employers plan to give out bonuses this year. Instead of big checks, companies are looking for low and no-cost ways to show appreciation for their employees.

Haefner: The unique ideas I've heard of is bring in your gifts and we'll wrap them for you or we'll even do that together, give you some time. Decorating contests, things that are pretty simple, and in some respects, may sound corny, but the message they're really getting across is think bigger picture about the holiday season and not focus on sort of a tough year.

Natasha Fogel is an executive vice president for public relations firm Edelman. She says there won't be holiday bonuses at her company this year, but there will be gifts for employees, and right now, they're a surprise.

Natasha Fogel: I'm just going to say they're going to be pragmatic and practical in nature, not flashy televisions or things like that.

Last year, staffers got extra vacation and the chance to wear jeans to work. And staff perks aren't the only thing getting an economy-inspired makeover; gifts to clients are changing. At Edelman, they're taking a turn to the philanthropic.

Fogel: What we're doing is we've sent out an electronic card to many of our clients and our partners, in lieu of sending them a physical gift or a card, and made a donation in their honor.

And there's another holiday tradition that's getting remade this year: the office party. Some places are scaling back, others are canceling parties altogether. And then, there's the office party for people without an office.

Hill at Aon Center: I'm here at the Mid-America Club on the 80th floor of the Aon Center in downtown Chicago. The party is just getting started, and no, it's not your typical holiday party. This is a party for out-of-work Chicagoans. They're expecting 550 people here tonight, maybe more. To pack this crowded room and enjoy the party they're not going to have at work.

Preeti Gupta: Well, I came to have some fun. As I no longer work with my former company, I do miss having a big party, you know.

That's out of work program manager Preeti Gupta.

Gupta: This is a great way to network and mingle with people and to have some fun during the holidays.

The party was organized by a group called Out of Work Chicago, and in an ironic twist, it was paid for, in part, by local corporations.

In Chicago, I'm Adrienne Hill for Marketplace.

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