Sun, Dec 16, 2012 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Year-end parties need to refocus

It has long been a tradition for businesses to host banquets and give out gifts to their employees as the year’s end approaches. For bosses, the year-end banquets, known as wei ya (尾牙) parties, are a way to show appreciation for their employees’ hard work throughout the year.

It has also become a trend, especially over the past one to two decades, for companies to invite pop stars to entertain their employees at these year-end celebrations, while others encourage employees to stage their own performances in which bosses sometimes also take part.

During the economic boom years, reports of companies holding grand feasts and giving extravagant gifts to employees at year-end parties often received plenty of media attention. There would be speculative reports about which pop star or celebrity would take to the stage, as well as interest in what performances company executives would put on for entertainment. Even during the current bad economic times, some firms are still holding these year-end parties to boost employee morale and to encourage staff to achieve next year’s revenue targets.

Traditionally, the year-end parties represent an opportunity for companies to improve the relationship between employers and employees. The celebrations also provide a chance for companies to review benefits offered to employees. However, in recent years, wei ya parties have been moving increasingly away from their roots, becoming a joint effort between company staff, public relations and marketing professionals to help companies increase their public profile and paint a better image of company executives. In one sense, the parties have become an annual variety show for employees as well as an advertisement to the public.

Some have questioned this transformation and wonder why companies are paying more attention to these parties than to employee welfare. The lure of boosting their image is probably a primary motive for this, and reflects a firm’s corporate culture and the intentions of its public relations staff more than the real needs of its employees.

This calculated attempt to increase publicity for businesses and company executives has drawn mixed reactions from the public, given the difficulty many people are experiencing in finding jobs and making ends meet. It also has negative implications for society.

As the nation has suffered from a slowing economy over the past two years there have been calls for bosses to cut spending on year-end dinners and celebrations, and instead use that money to improve employees’ annual bonuses.

Earlier this month, a local job bank released its survey of annual bonuses, and the results did not look pretty. The 104 Job Bank survey showed that the average annual bonus is expected to fall to its lowest levels in three years this year, to the equivalent of 1.11 months’ salary, compared with 1.25 months’ salary last year.

Most companies’ year-end parties are to take place next month, right before the start of the Lunar New Year holidays in February. Unlike previous years, some companies have arranged for local performance groups like the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre troupe to entertain their employees in an effort to have more culturally themed celebrations.

Despite a weak economy, the nation’s workforce is fortunate that more than 90 percent of employers in the job bank’s survey said they would still plan to distribute year-end bonuses this year. Employees may still welcome the year-end parties, whether they come in the form of banquets, concerts, cultural performances or other activities. Yet while celebrating with employees, companies need to be aware of their social obligations and should always put social values ahead of financial concerns.

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