At this time of year The Christmas Party is an almost universal preoccupation. Some companies splash out on lavish festivities, others say humbug to convention and leave it to employees to pay for themselves. Does it really matter what they do - or how much they spend?
Angela Baron of the Institute of Personnel and Development says that an organisation's attitude to Christmas parties reveals its culture. A party shows a caring attitude towards staff. It also helps to promote understanding between colleagues. Even the Inland Revenue recognises the legitimacy of the occasion, since it doesn't tax employees on this benefit-in-kind - not, that is, as long as the employer spends no more than £50 per head.
But this not-ungenerous threshold doesn't stop companies that really believe in splashing out at Christmas. Moore Stephens, one of the Top 20 accountancy firms, has been inviting employees and their partners to an annual Christmas dinner-dance at the Savoy since 1947 (dress: black tie - unless you don't happen to have one). It started off as a 'thank you' from partners to staff, according to partnership secretary John Baylis. Now he reckons it has 'more to do with corporate identity', with providing a chance for personnel from four separate locations to get together. The justification is looked at annually, but 'when we work out what it costs, and work that out into an alternative form (like a bonus payment), the amount is an insult'. Costs are carefully monitored nevertheless: 'We don't have pheasant if chicken will taste the same to most people.' But by spending the equivalent of £100 per employee, says Baylis, the firm is able to put on an event that will be talked about for months to come - particularly among trainees and other younger members of staff.
Carl Burton agrees. Burton is managing director of Flint Distribution, a thriving purveyor of chips (of the computer variety) whose 60 employees enjoy three separate events at Christmas, all paid for by the company. The most popular is an annual Gary Glitter concert. There's also a theme party - it was a medieval banquet last year - plus an informal get-together down at the pub. Burton happily stumps up because, he says, 'I want people here to feel that they work for a really good company that does all this for us'.
British Telecom, which employs 2,500 times as many people as Burton, takes a more austere view. The company contributes just £10 per head towards some Christmas event - though this adds up, too, when you have 150,000 names on the payroll. All the events are organised by employees themselves, and must take place off the premises and not encroach on working time. Years ago events used to be organised for staff on different sites or in different departments, for which the company would pay. 'The idea behind the £10 was to harmonise and make sure everybody had the same treatment,' says a spokesman.
And what does Management Today do? Well, yes, the company does lay on a staff shindig. And no, it doesn't make work for the taxman.