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Merry and tight: funding the festivities

With a bit of flair and imagination, companies can throw a memorable office party without spending a fortune

The office party needn’t cost a fortune. Photograph: iStock

The office party needn’t cost a fortune. Photograph: iStock


Throwing a party costs money, so how do you extract enough funds to make it go with a bang without breaking the bank?

The best parties are designed by people working within the organisation rather than by management, says Terri Morrissey, a business psychologist and chief executive of the Psychological Society of Ireland.

So how do you ensure that yours is recalled for all the right reasons? The Christmas party is increasingly important as a way of connecting with the workplace and seeing colleagues in a different light; the boss’s bad dancing or maybe discovering that John from accounts isn’t such a bore after all, says Michelle Fogarty, who has spent more than two decades heading up HR teams in small, medium and large organisations and is now chief operating officer of Peptalk, a firm that works with companies to takes the pulse of workplace health and improves or reforms it.

When it comes to throwing the kind of parties employees and colleagues want to attend, organisations have to get creative, she says, recalling a DIY party she organised while working in London. She and her colleagues, a group of 10 or 12 people, booked an old church they found on Airbnb, bought their own booze and food, cooked their own meal and decorated the place using decorations each had been tasked with making. It remains one of her favourite work parties because it’s about creating experiences, she explains. “If you have a good work culture you don’t need to spend loads of money on the party.”

But it’s easier to accommodate a small group in this fashion. What if your company has hundreds or even thousands of employees? Twenty-five years ago, the maths around throwing a party was relatively straightforward, Fogarty says – it was x amount of money for y amount of people – but as organisations grow and you’re dealing with 1,000 people, you would not see sums of up to €60,000 go and the question the bean counters will be asking is do employees value that spend, she says. The economies of scale grow and it might just make more sense to break down the employee numbers into smaller groups and let them go off and enjoy themselves in smaller units, she explains – “€1,000 in the pocket of a department head, for example, will buy a lot of beer and pizza and the group may have more craic than a formal sit-down three-course dinner with a band.”

Big blow-out

But if you’re set on a big blow-out, how do you get your boss or accounts to loosen the purse strings? Budgets are set at the start of the year so if you want more money you need to be able to justify any increased outlay, Fogarty says. Other factors she advises including in your pitch are any successes the company has had in the past 12 months – increases in numbers to the organisation since last year and other big events such as a merger, an acquisition or an IPO that you could use the party to celebrate all merit a mention.

But, she says, you will also need metrics and analytics to make the case. Then you should present three options that show how much the party will cost per person per month over the economic year. “The level entry option, say a party that costs €50,000, for 1,000 employees will be bang on budget, while option two, costing, say €55,000, should be presented as sounding pretty underwhelming by comparison. Option three, say a budget of €70,000, needs to be presented as offering a whole lot more so that in contrast to options one and two, option three will sound awesome,” she says.

However much of a Scrooge your boss or bean counter is, it is important to note that the Christmas party is symbolic for employees. Morrissey counsels against the idea of cancelling Christmas. “Its recognition is really important and shows employees contributions are really important. It is also really important for motivating employees.”

For more, visit psychologicalsociety,ie; Peptalk.ie