This is the season to throw a company holiday party, and many companies make a big deal of their annual ritual. While I love a party as much as anyone else, I want to caution business leaders to balance the attention and funds spent on parties with more day to day cultural issues. It’s the daily experience that shapes your employee’s, customer’s and supplier’s perception of the company. And yet, as we will see, there are plenty of good reasons to throw a great party in December.
The following are practices that can negate all the fun and goodwill generated at your holiday party. You might use it as a checklist to make sure you aren’t sabotaging your intentions:
Let’s explore the good results that can be gained from a holiday party or other cross-functional social event in which food is served. Research demonstrates that sharing food together is a bonding experience. The word “commensality” has been termed to describe the act of sharing food and drink around a table, and has been shown to increase goodwill between people, to cement relationships and to incorporate the partaker into the community. Ultimately, commensality increases employee engagement, teamwork and productivity. And, serving food increases the employee’s perception of the company as caring and compassionate. 1
In conducting research into organizational behavior, Dr. Barbara Plester of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, discovered that when an organization serves a meal to employees, the food becomes a symbol of the organizational culture. 2 When employees ingest the food, they make it a part of their physical bodies. Plester shows that this ingesting transfers the perceived values of the company to the self and influences employee’s perceptions of the organizational culture. Her research suggests that ingesting company-served food and drink may be a powerful way to assimilate people into the company culture. If the food is symbolic of the organization that offers it, employees become that organization when they eat it. 3
So good news for your holiday cheer: shows that your holiday party is well worth the time, effort and funds you put into it and can result in better teamwork, improved perception of the company and greater productivity. The important thing to remember is that an annual event’s impact will pale in comparison to your employee’s day-in, day-out experience of the company. Pay attention to both and you will build a great company culture.
1. Driver, M. Every bite you take . . . food and the struggles of embodied subjectivity in organizations. Human Relations, 61(7), 913–934, 2008.
2. Plester, B. Ingesting the organization: The embodiment of organizational food rituals. Culture and Organization, 21(3), 251–268, 2014.
3. Miller, L., Rozin, P. and Fiske, A. P. Food sharing and feeding another person suggest intimacy; Two studies of American college students. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 28: 423–436, 1998.
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