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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
SCOTT JAGOW: Usually this time of year, the party planning committee is in full swing, preparing for the office bash.
AUDIO CLIP FROM “The Office”: “What do we got? What do we got? How many plates we getting?”
“Oooo. Double it. Double everything. Double ice cream. Double napkins. Everything. Double it. On me. I want people to cut loose. I wan’t people makin’ out in closets. I want people hanging from the ceiling. Lampshades on the head. I want it to be a Playboy Mansion party.
It’s not gonna happen this year. As you just heard, riverboat cruises are out. And you can forget about ice sculptures and champagne.
You’ll be lucky to get a pot-luck.
Jo Bennett is with the executive search firm, Battalia Winston Amrop. Every year they do a survey about corporate holiday events.
Jo, thanks for coming on the program.
JO BENNETT: Thank you, Scott.
JAGOW: I will tell you that I’m wearing a Grinch T-shirt today, just for this interview.
BENNETT: Well, that’s very appropriate.
JAGOW: That’s what I hear, based on what this survey is telling us. So, tell us what the details of it are.
BENNETT: Well, we’ve been surveying companies for 20 years now, and each year the number is pretty much consistent. Most companies have holiday parties. The last time, though, that we saw a big drop off in holiday parties was after 9/11. And that has now been topped by 2008 when only 81 percent of companies are planning to have holiday parties.
JAGOW: I’m surprised it’s that many.
BENNETT: Well, actually, I think it’s going to be less because, since we did the survey back in October, a number of companies have changed their minds and have decided to cancel their parties.
JAGOW: Now, some companies are cancelling their parties even though they’ve already paid for them? Is this true?
BENNETT: Well, they haven’t paid for the whole party. What they’ve done is put down a deposit and they will lose their deposits. But the real reason that they’re not doing parties is not purely because of the cost. It just doesn’t set the right tone. We’ve seen a lot of layoffs. We’ve seen people taking bailout money. We’ve seen all kinds of disasters in the last few weeks.
JAGOW: Yeah, it’s just kind of an image thing, I assume, for the company, if it’s throwing this huge bash — especially, you know, a company on Wall Street.
BENNETT: Well, if you’re taking the taxpayers’ money, you really can’t put on a lavish celebration for yourself.
JAGOW: One of the other things I wanted to ask you about was bonuses — end-of-year holiday bonuses — whatever you want to call it. There are a lot of people out there angry about what has happened with the bailouts, and they want these companies to eliminate bonuses altogether. Can you explain a little bit about how the bonus versus salary structure works?
BENNETT: In the financial services industry, people are paid artificially low, base salaries. So, for example, you might get a $150,000 base salary if you’re a vice president at a major money center bank. But your bonus could easily be $700,000 or
$800,000. And the dollars go all the way down the chain in these firms. I mean, even people in administrative assistant positions in some of the financial services institutions also have come to rely on getting a big bonus.
JAGOW: Why do financial companies do it this way?
BENNETT: That’s a very good question. I haven’t been able to figure it out. I think they originally thought that it would help them keep their fixed costs low, so that in bad times they just wouldn’t have to put out money on salaries. And I think probably what’s going to happen is the compensation system in the financial services industry is going to have to be modified to be more like that in normal corporate America. They have really, I think, grossly overpaid themselves in good times. And in bad times they basically have to fire everybody.
JAGOW: As we’ve seen, unfortunately, the last few months.
BENNETT: And that’s another reason why nobody wants to have a holiday party. When all of your you know, many colleagues that you have known for years are out in the job market, it’s hard to feel like celebrating.
JAGOW: OK. Jo Bennett. She’s a partner with Battalia Winston Amrop, an executive recruiting firm in New York. Thanks so much for joining us.
BENNETT: Thank you, Scott.