Avoid the awkward office party. Employees prefer money.
WASHINGTON -- In the era of sexual harassment, a lot of office parties will be different. At least we should hope they are.
No sexual innuendo. No leaning in too close after partaking of generously poured drinks provided at an open bar. No pressuring a fellow colleague -- male or female -- for a chance at romance.
But here's another reason the holiday party isn't always well received. Employees consider the cost and conclude that they would rather the company take the money and give it to them instead.
Ninety percent of workers would prefer a bonus or extra vacation days over a holiday party, according to a poll this year by the staffing firm Randstad US.
During a recent online discussion, a reader wrote: "I work for a social services agency. This year, there is no expensive holiday party. We have thousands of employees, so [in previous years] it wasn't lavish, but it was expensive. Instead, [this year] eligible employees sent in their information and management will draw 10 names. Those winners will get $5,000 paid directly toward their student loans. Since most people hated the party, nobody will miss it. Plus, some people will get a really nice gift!"
I thought this was a wonderful idea given the great impact it could have on those selected. Others in the forum weighed in, and a debate ensued.
A reader named Kathleen thought it was a fantastic idea, too. "I was fortunate to not have student loans (went to state school when it was really cheap and had parents who paid), so I would not be eligible, but would be so excited for those who are facing massive student loan debt to win a chunk of money that would help pay that down," she wrote. "This seems so in the spirit of the holidays and would make such a difference."
Alas, we were in the minority.
"Much as I hate debt and empathize with the crippling debt young adults are saddled with nowadays, only employees with loans are even eligible to vie for the prize," Marilyn wrote. "Older employees, those who never went to college, those with parents that saved, get nothing. Not even a shot at the prize. It's basically implying that only some employees are valued."
Others shared similar views.
"I don't have a student loan," wrote Jacquie Bokow from Maryland. "What if I had huge medical bills instead?" She suggested divvying up the $50,000 the company is spending among all of the employees.
Anne August from Massachusetts thought a lottery for employees with student loans "is blatantly discriminatory."
The word "unfair" came up a lot.
Megan from Indiana said her company held a holiday sweepstakes and gave out gift cards, with more than 100 employees getting $25 gift cards and six receiving $100 gift cards.
"Seeing six people getting $100 was really exciting," she wrote. "I was delighted to see a name I knew, and I was thinking about how she deserves it as a hardworking single mom with a heart of gold and great sense of humor."
But Megan admitted that not finding her name on the longer $25 winners' list "felt a little crummy."
She also didn't like limiting the giveaway to folks with education debt. "It doesn't quite seem fair that a 22-year-old first-year employee could be eligible for a benefit that a 45-year-old veteran employee with perhaps some medical debt isn't. Or even another 22-year-old first-year employee that busted her butt to work through college without getting a loan. Office politics could get snarky."
"I think it's a recipe for disaster," wrote Jeffrey, who added, "I really don't like office holiday parties. Frankly, canceling the holiday party would be gift enough for me."
Having read all the concerns, I'll walk back some of my enthusiasm. Perhaps a lottery for just a certain set of employees could cause resentment among the staff. But I'll leave you with this from reader Katie:
"If I were at the office holding the loans lottery and still had loans, I would like to believe that I'd have a charitable and cheerful attitude even if I wasn't one of the lucky selected winners. After all, can you be too upset over a prize you were never entitled to or that you could in no way work to improve your odds of receiving? A random raffle isn't based on merit. If you won, that's an amazing windfall, but if you didn't, you're not at any more of a loss and shouldn't feel slighted."
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