It’s been a particularly difficult holiday season for many here in New York City, as the effects of Hurricane Sandy and a still-shaky economy collide – actually, make that the FIFTH-such difficult holiday season, following the October 2008 financial crisis. Once again, companies here in the Big Apple and across the country have asked the same question: can (or should) we hold an office holiday party this year?

In times of economic instability, management has an obligation to look for and remove any superfluous spending – and while a holiday party is a nice gesture, common sense dictates that in the post-2008 world it has become an increasingly difficult expense to justify. Event professionals across the country are reporting a sharp decline in both the scale and frequency of office holiday parties this season, and one study shows that more than half of companies are forgoing the annual ritual altogether this year.

No doubt, office holiday parties are expensive – not just in direct costs such as venue, food/beverage, entertainment and transportation, but also in opportunity costs of having the entire team, department or company punch out for the afternoon or evening, unable to conduct business, service clients, generate leads or close sales. Yes, in times of trouble killing the holiday party is an obvious decision, and the right one.

Or is it?

Just what is the point of an office holiday party, anyway? Is it to spend a lot of money for the sake of doing so, flaunting success & excess to staff & competitors alike? You’ll get no argument out of me in favor of opulence or needless spending in a bad economy – I’m a business owner too, and know the realities of a balance sheet. But when it comes right down to it, in this economy the holiday party is the best card a company can play in terms of staff motivation, reward & retention.

Be honest: how many deserving people are going to get promotions & raises at your company this year? How much more is on their plates than last year, or the year before that? What more will you ask of them in the year to come? It’s been tough all around these past 4 years, and the simple fact is there isn’t enough money available to adequately compensate staff for a job well done through the traditional means of advancement, salary increases or bonuses.

But what about the holiday party?

It’s the end of another difficult year, and your people are underpaid, overworked, frustrated and burnt out.  If you can’t show your appreciation through direct compensation, than at the very least, throw these people a party. It does NOT have to break the bank, and in fact can be far, far less expensive than giving everybody a modest raise. By setting aside some time to invite everybody together for the sake of nothing more than a good time, you are sending a message that you do in fact care about your staff’s well-being and long-term happiness through a powerfully meaningful and impactful gesture. Even if you put something something together last-minute, it will be far better received than if you do nothing at all.

Not one for party planning? There are so many ways to reward your staff this holiday season without spending a ton of money (especially here in the entertainment capital of the world).

“Now, hold the phone David” you may be thinking. “Don’t you own a New York City team building company that specializes in corporate entertainment, including holiday parties? Aren’t you just looking after your own interests here?” If that were the case, I certainly wouldn’t be donating 50% of my holiday party revenue this season to Sandy relief (which, according to The New York Times is far more than other companies who are opportunistically taking up the charity mantle this season in the name of “cause marketing”).

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog regularly knows how incredibly passionate I am about staff recognition and reward, and I feel strongly that the office holiday party is the last vestige of meaningful thanks that hard-strapped employers & managers have at their disposal to show their people the gratitude that they deserve.

Don’t take that away from them.

Shout-out to the good people at Brooklyn Based, Brokelyn, The Skint & F’d in Park Slope who share in my belief and, realizing there will inevitably be people left out in the cold this year as far as holiday parties go, are throwing their own “No Office Holiday Party.” It will be held Thursday, December 20th at Littlefield in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, and is open to the public. Great job, guys!