As economy tanks, employers take on role of Grinch

Miami HeraldNovember 26, 2008 

This year, the Grinch may not have stolen Christmas, but he definitely will invade workplaces.

From holiday bonuses to office parties to vacation time, expect less holiday cheer and more creativity as employers try to survive the slumping economy.

''I think we'll see less yuletide joy in workplaces this year,'' said Matthew Sottong, surveys director for research firm BNA.

The tone will be set this week, when fewer employers grant the day after Thanksgiving as a paid day off, and even less dole out turkeys as Thanksgiving gifts, according to a BNA survey.

As the economic crisis has worsened, offices have become more short-staffed than usual and employers less generous with paid days off. That means getting time to visit relatives or take advantage of holiday sales will become even more of a challenge for employees.

Managers are feeling the brunt. One manager who oversees vacation time for her department told me because of tight staffing, she already had to tell a couple of people they would have to change plans for holiday weeks off with their families. Another told me she fears for her job too much to take a real vacation in which she actually unplugs from the office.

But time-off concerns are just one sign of the changing times.

Across the nation, companies are canceling or scaling back annual end-of-the-year holiday celebrations to cut costs, or just to accommodate the overall mood of people too worried about money to feel like a party. Two annual holiday-party surveys back up anecdotal evidence that a record number of companies have dropped holiday parties this year — more even than in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist bombings.

Companies like Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Adidas Group and Viacom put the brakes on their end-of-year parties. Others are scaling back how much they spend, what they serve or how many people they invite.

''While our organization as whole might not be suffering, we need to be mindful of colleagues who are suffering and people who are out of jobs,'' said Joanne Baxter, a spokeswoman for Baptist Health South Florida. At Baptist Hospital, secret Santas are a thing of the past and each department will hold its own holiday lunch this year — potluck. "It has to be done on a modest scale this year.''

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