In a time of economic hardship, it has become fashionable for companies of all sizes to cut way back on work parties, retreats, and corporate outings. These expenses are viewed as frivolous.

I could not disagree more.

For many people, the closest set of friends they have is at work, and a party is a great way to foster the relationships that help businesses to function. Often, a company-paid party is a wonderful reward for a close-knit group at work that has reached a goal in terms of quality or sales. This can do much to create the corporate culture of shared goals and responsibility.

Mind you, a company party does not need to be expensive or elaborate--pancakes, burgers or hot dogs on a grill in the parking lot work better than a stuffy steakhouse costing $80 per head. And don't forget the games.

Games are a great equalizer. They provide workers with a sanctioned way to turn tables on management. Even though, on occasion, I have found myself roughed up in a game of "touch" football, everyone has a good time.

Games can also be a good way to disseminate information about your company and your staff. I have a couple of restaurants that have touch-screen ordering at each table. We have some great trivia game engines that we customize for company parties. Everyone loves to be asked questions about the company and about their co-workers. It has been an unexpected hit.

Everyday games in the workplace also create a positive corporate culture. Try putting up a weekly list of 10 vocabulary words. Encourage everyone to use at least one of the words in their communications. People can then vote for the person that did the best job of it. Give a prize of a half-day off, a gift certificate, or a free t-shirt. Believe it or not, everyone will develop a richer vocabulary through this exercise. More important, they will have a bunch of fun and walk away with a better feeling about the company. A game can help you work to improve your staff's skills, while also showing them that you are not afraid to make work fun.