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.