Holiday office party season is upon us

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Some holiday traditions endure, even in tough times.

The Greenwich Times reports that the annual holiday light show at the massive residence of hedge fund guru Paul Tudor Jones is apparently a go, as it has been every year since 2000. There was some local concern two years ago that maybe the show would be discontinued, especially after Jones cancelled his Halloween party.

In the end, despite tough times in the industry, the show went on. And what a show it is. It's said to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce. I raise this to note that the holiday party season is upon us once again. In past few years, there have been some eye-catching extravagances. Blackstone's blowout in the Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art comes to mind. Bridgewater Associates not too long ago rented a 10,000-seat arena for its office party.

At the same time, banks have felt the need to tone down the celebrations. In 2009, Goldman Sachs generated lots of headlines when management strongly discouraged gatherings of 12 or more employees during the holiday season, so as not to inspire images of excess and greed at a tough time.

So what can be expected in 2012? Some firms are back in party mode, but the banking industry in general isn't exactly booming right now, as evidenced by Citigroup's announcement that it will axe 11,000 jobs. There's lot of tension all over the industry, as most expect more jobs to evaporate soon. And yet, the office party has made a comeback. More than 80 percent of human resources managers said their companies will host an event this year, including 10 percent who didn't have a party last year, according to the Challenger, Gray & Christmas holiday party survey.

Banks will want to play it safe. While many are faring much better than these days, there's little to be gained from grandiose celebration right now. Citigroup would be wise to think about the optics of any sort of employee celebration. All that said, I'd love to hear about any parties. Feel free to post about them. -Jim

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