Fewer employers will be holding holiday parties  this year, a sure sign the U.S. economy is in trouble, according to Battalia Winston Amrop.

In a report based on 20 years of survey data, the New York-based executive recruiting firm found the number of office holiday parties mirrors boom  and bust cycles in the economy.

While the frequency of parties rose in the 1990s, including all-time highs in 1996 and 1997, they faded during the recession of 1991 and in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the report said.

The surveys also showed that office parties have toned down over the years, regardless of the prevailing economic climate.

"The data shows that the holiday party, now viewed as an employee-morale booster, was once a festive family affair with company-wide turkey giveaways and Polaroids with Santa," Dale Winston, the firm's CEO, said in a statement.

By contrast, Winston said during the 1990s recession employers considered it a "gift" for workers to keep their jobs between Christmas and New Years.

"That type of attitude today would be shocking," he said.