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Liz Neumark Headshot

Party Politics

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After five years of finding excuses not to champion holiday parties, it is time to plan the party with pride. For starters, our employees need it -- they need our attention and commitment after years of working harder. Philanthropy is not funded by the party budget.

I confess, I have a bias when it comes to the subject of entertaining. For me, it boils down to a simple belief: Life Happens Around Food. From weddings to births, retirement to graduation -- communities worldwide come together to celebrate life's moments or professional accomplishments around food and drink. I am in the right job -- CEO of a catering company. But that does not preclude my curiosity on the subject of holiday parties and frustration with the question some people seem to be asking, "Is it appropriate to have a holiday party?"

When did it start? Post 9/11, when unbridled celebration and libations seemed distasteful? Or was it post-the Great Recession of '08 (or '02 or earlier) when businesses searched for ways to cut any expense deemed frivolous (how selective!) and couched the decision as prudent ("Our people would rather preserve their jobs then have a party.") And now people are wondering if it is right to party publicly in the wake of Sandy.

I remember my first decade as a caterer -- when annual profits happened in the month of December, the other 11 months just a run-up to the ultimate 21 days of success (before cell phones or social media outlets to record who ended up smooching in the corner or dancing with the proverbial lampshade on their head.)

But between both extremes is the reason for coming together -- we are social creatures. Our strength comes from community and in those moments of gathering, whether modestly or robustly, good things happen. Businesses entertain clients knowing that socializing builds relationships and equals more business.

Now, employee entertaining seems trickier to justify -- though what could be more critical to successful operations? The company holiday party has been limping back into the public mainstream enhanced with opportunities for doing good and giving back (and the rise of corporate social responsibility departments).

I am being asked how Sandy is affecting party planning; are donations (goods mostly) part of the party landscape? Yes, to some extent, companies that traditionally include a collection drive might be earmarking 2012 for Sandy victims. Corporate giving should be continuous and inclusive of employees if possible, not just at holiday time. And holiday time is not the moment to clean out the closet and bag our castoffs as generous donations. Those in need need us year round, not just when we need to think about them.

And in thinking about employees, I encourage businesses to find ways to bring the work community together -- a casual lunch in the office, a tea party, a potluck office dinner, a party in a home -- there are countless ways to say "thank you." Just find the one that fits!