’tis the season to make money! …but all’s not well in holiday party service wonderland

The holiday season is a joyous one for all of us on the selling side of the equation – organizers, musicians, rentals, restaurants and caterers and strippers alike. I’ve been happily lining my pockets with holiday party generosity ever since 2002, but this year I have noticed that the rivers of cash flow run differently than before, and certain people are feeling the pinch.

It used to be so that companies would try to outdo themselves when it came to X-mas and NY parties. Bragging rights would belong to those who could dish out on the most senseless, lavish debauchery. Half the time employees couldn’t, or wouldn’t want to remember what went down at the event aside from a conspicuous reference such as “We spent this or that much on fireworks”, or “So-and-so jumped out of a cake”, or “so-and-so played or DJ’ed and stayed to party.” You will still find many bosses who think that that’s the way to go when you want to express gratitude towards your employees. But many others have caught on and understood that getting your people drunk and splurging on glitzy entertainment not only has an awful ROI, it can also mess up an organization’s dynamics. And believe me, I could write a book on the mishaps and follies of holiday parties.

I’ve observed several trends during the past seasons.

Employees are no longer WOW’ed as easily as they were before. The entertainment threshold has been pushed so far, that not even pulling Marilyn Monroe out of a cake would get you much of a reaction. It’s like foosball tables, play stations, and other hip perks at the office. They no longer work and will often earn a cynical response from those who are supposed to react gratefully surprised. People want something sincere or useful. Companies, on the other hand, began to understand that throwing buckets of money around to gain affection seems to produce the opposite effect.

As a result, they have begun to spend smarter, and splurge on enlightening experiences and development of their employees rather than just wine-dining and entertaining. There seems to be a mutual understanding that money spent on formation or training is more beneficial for everyone than on something you might regret the next morning. Debaucherous excess is losing to nurturing and cultivation. People who provide nothing but party are feeling the pinch.

And I’m not surprised. I’ve had a record year, and December has been very generous. But then again I have been observing the trends and riding the wave for the past couple of years. Holiday events are but one of the things that have been hit by the cataclysmic shift in HR due to changing attitudes in the workforce.  

The businesses’ attitude towards emotions has begun to shift over the past decade, as companies started to learn what science already knows: employees need an honest motivation, a sense of purpose, balance, and trust for an organization to achieve peak productivity and thrive.

As Daniel Pink, one of my favorite authors and career analysts, argues – financial rewards, such as bonuses can dull thinking and block creativity – the higher the bonus, the worse the consequences. The only solution is to ditch the mechanistic reward-punishment approach giving people a real purpose for doing their job.

The organizations that have caught on and want to invest in their employee emotional well-being are paying close attention to what really motivates their employees. Companies leading the change are conducting research, sharing best practices, establishing safe spaces and opening up dialogue to find solutions for this new emotional landscape.

For example, Google keeps winning Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work for in the US because of its company culture, which is safe and inclusive, due to special attention to workers’ emotional needs: support for transgender employees or unconscious-bias workshops, just to name a few. One of my favorite studies ever done –  Google’s two-year study of how groups work, called Project Aristotle –  found that to be fully present at work, people need to feel psychologically safe and free to share the things that scare them. Afterall, Google have done their research – it’s worth investing in their employee emotional well-being, as happy employees are more productive,  more efficient and stay longer with the company.

It used to be a taboo to talk about employees’ emotional well-being in companies. Feelings could only be analyzed from a marketing perspective – such as monitoring how people feel about one’s brand. Now the situation has completely shifted. Millennials, who are the fresh blood in the workplace, are looking for a deeper sense of purpose. Social awareness cannot be sugar-coated anymore, dictated from above, or learned from a manual – it needs to be real.

Change is in the air and a shift in organizational cultures will also affect how they celebrate the holidays. My friends in entertainment who are still doing things the old way are not enjoying themselves too much this season, but I’ve got others who’ve caught on. People who give depth to the entertainment are doing well.

I’ve done well for myself by mixing my passion for music and social phenomenon to provide “Edutainment”. My interactive musical seminars (or happenings depending on the context) are a fun experience that can enlighten those participating on social dynamics provide tangible benefits to group dynamics.

Friends who perform interactive workshops from drumming to acting are not complaining.  “Godopoco” is also a good example. This game mimics improvisation theater and activates emotional ties amongst people. But it’s more than just fun. The creator of the game, actor Andrius Zebrauskas, teaches people to take unexpected turns in business negotiations in order to connect deeper and to achieve better results.

’tis indeed the season to make money, but people and organizations are more careful to spend on things that are not going to have a tangible benefit. The trends in wellness and self-improvement that are transforming consumer trends all over the world have spilled into the realm of holiday events. Those who’ve understood will be lining their stocking from many Christmases to come.

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