Poor Marissa Mayer seems not to be able to do anything right. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that her senior team seems to be leaving for other opportunities. For a company that was on a turnaround plan, that's problematic. Then investors started calling for her removal. In the midst of all this, she gave birth to identical twin daughters. Now? She's being criticized for an extravagant holiday party where she sat in a "throne" behind ropes.
Now, I've been on Mayer's case since she killed telecommuting at Yahoo, but I've got her back on the chair with ropes. Mayer just ejected two small humans out of her body. No matter how this happens, it's unpleasant. Even with nannies doing all the work (and I'm not saying that they are, but even if that's the case), she's exhausted, legally disabled, and has weird hormonal things going on. The last thing I would want to do at a week postpartum is go to a Christmas party and have to mingle. I think she's awesome for going at all, and smart to have a chair to sit in and crowd control set up, because everyone wants to say hi to the famous boss.
But the symbolism of excess is also hitting her hard. The party was expensive in an era in which the company is struggling and companies are scaling back on Christmas parties. I'm a fan of holiday parties (although I especially like one in January, when people's personal social schedules have calmed down), but excessive parties can seem, well, excessive. Investors and outsiders don't care for such things. Employees who feel like their jobs are on the line don't care for them either.
Does this mean you should kill your holiday party? It's doubtful that your current party is extravagant anyway. It can be a great morale builder for your staff--if that's what your staff wants. Not everyone wants to come to a holiday party, and some people only want to go to a certain type of party. How can you ensure that your holiday party keeps your employees and your investors happy? Here are some tips.
Ask what your employees want.
They may like an evening affair with significant others. They may like pizza and soda in the break room. They may like a day off with pay.
Pay for it.
I know it's traditional in some industries to have people buy tickets to the company Christmas party. I wouldn't recommend starting that tradition for your company. Instead, throw a party you can afford.
Make sure your board is happy with it.
Rewarding your employees with a nice party is good for morale, but not at the expense of angering your board or investors. A modest party should keep just about everyone happy.
Don't forget to be inclusive.
We talk about holiday parties, but we decorate with Christmas trees and have Santa Claus come, and it's pretty clear that it's a Christmas party with another name. This is not necessarily bad--lots of people who don't celebrate Christmas with their families are OK with parties. After all--free food. But be sensitive. In a small startup, you probably know your employees well enough to know their preferred pizza toppings. In a larger company, your party planner should be careful to make sure all people feel welcome. This is another reason why a January party is a great idea.