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The annual dinner – whose party is it anyway?

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Article by Jacqueline Arnold @ TwentyTwo13 (20 August 2023)

It’s August, and businesses will soon start planning their annual dinner.

There are many things to consider – from selecting the venue, to the theme, the entertainment, prizes for the lucky draws, seating arrangements, to the menu.

Recently, a client had a question about the big year-end bash, and her question surprised me.

The organising committee suggested that to kick off the evening, as a sort of opening gambit, the chief executive officer and senior management would make a grand entrance by walking into the ballroom in procession.

I cringed when I heard this, and she noticed, and affirmed that she felt the same way. I was glad we both shared the same feeling.

I’m shocked, that in this day and age, a ‘High Power Distance Culture’ still exists in Malaysian business entities.

After all, management books say that employees are an organisation’s most valuable asset. This line of thinking is from businesses that often refer to employees as ‘resources’, ‘assets’ and ‘human capital’.

Some organisations go even further by describing employees as their ‘most valuable resource’. So, I have to wonder why this display of feudalistic homage would even cross anyone’s mind.

In PR, we go to the root of things. Once we have the objective clearly in mind, we make better decisions.

What’s the objective of the annual dinner? Who is the dinner really for? Whose party is it anyway?

I believe that the ‘annual dinner and dance’ (as it used to be called), dates back to the colonial days to boost employee morale, recognise employees’ contributions to the company, and promote further loyalty and motivation.

It started as a way to show that management cared about employees. It was an occasion where employees could socialise with the bosses in a casual setting. A night to set aside hierarchy and generally have a good time.

From a PR standpoint, what message is a chief executive officer sending to employees if they want a show of adulation and to be treated like a VVIP at the annual dinner?

Let’s consider these two scenarios, and if you were the employee, which company would you prefer to work with:

Scenario 1 – High Power Distance Culture

A company where the CEO and senior management appear aloof and self-absorbed. They expect and are given full VIP treatment during the annual dinner, even though it is supposed to be a celebration for employees.

They are greeted upon arrival and escorted to their exclusive VIP table, where they sit throughout the entire evening among themselves.

Generally, this type of behaviour is observed in the government sector, local companies, and government-linked companies.

Scenario 2 – Low Power Distance Culture

A company where the chief executive officer and senior management are on hand to receive and greet employees as the employees arrive for the annual dinner.

No fanfare, no special treatment for the senior management. They walk around the ballroom, shake hands, and mix and mingle with employees.

After all, the annual dinner is supposed to be a ‘thank you’ from management to employees.

In my experience, this type of behaviour is observed at multi-national companies.

In present times, which company would top talent prefer to work for? PR is more than just about what you say. It’s about what you do, and don’t do.

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