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December holidays in Mexico: celebrating while cutting business costs

Daniel G. Little

For companies doing business in Mexico, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12th is a bigger celebration than Christmas Day. During these difficult economic times I have had many enquiries about how to handle this important event while cutting back on costs.

Let me start with a description of a party held a few years ago when times were better and it was not as much of a struggle to spend a little money on the celebration. We always shifted the party to the Saturday closest to the 12th, as it gave people a chance to rest prior to the party and had a minimum impact on production. The union was always a part of the planning process and their input was very important.

Saturday morning started with a Mass that was conducted by a local priest. He brought along a small choir and, after the Mass, sprinkled holy water over the premises and blessed everyone.

Once Mass was over, we had tables and chairs set up for our dinner. We had 300 employees but had to accommodate 1,200 because families were also invited to the party. While the dining area was being set up, we had a clown come in to perform magic tricks for the children and to give away small toys to every child who was there. Before the dinner was ready, we had the usual speeches from the management team and gave out awards for perfect attendance, high school diplomas and long service.

The dinner was a buffet and we had two areas where the food was served to accommodate the number of people. We also set up four hot dog stands for the children, which were very popular. During the dinner, we had a mariachi group play for us and this was very popular with the adults. Off to one side of the dining area, we had four inflatable games set up for the children. The children not only had a great time playing in these, but they burned off a lot of energy and it kept them from running around the dining area.

After everyone had eaten, the chairs and tables were pushed back to form a dance floor and a six-piece band came in to play. The union paid for this entertainment and everyone enjoyed the music and dancing. Soft drinks and beer were served and the management team kept an eye out for anyone who might have over indulged. We had a number of taxis on standby to take anyone home who needed a ride. The party wrapped up at 8:00 p.m. so it was a very early night for all. The entire party was held on the plant floor with the inventory in the plant pushed back into the production area. This not only cleared the area for the party but we used the wall of inventory to keep children from wandering off into potentially dangerous production areas.

In addition to the December 12th party, the company also paid for a very nice Christmas dinner for the salaried employees. This took place in a local hotel and also included a small band and all drinks. A gift exchange was also done. Only employees and their partners were invited. At this time, Christmas baskets were also given out.

As you can see, the celebrations were fairly elaborate and the costs were significant, but they were reserved for during the year and we knew what we had to work with.

In an economic downturn

Let's fast-forward to 2008 and look at the difference in an economic downturn. The company had been busy right-sizing to the lower customer demand and had been successful at preserving at least a small EBIT through the year. The prospects for 2009 looked dismal and the company was looking for any way possible to cut costs.

The Mass was still done as before but with only two people in the choir. This is very important because the Catholic faith is still a strong influence on the employees. The Mass was followed by a lunch of tamales served in the lunchroom for employees only. A few days later, the general manager took the senior management team out for a buffet lunch at a local restaurant and no alcohol was allowed.

The budget for the Mass and tamales plus the long service awards was $800.00 USD and the management lunch was another $150.00. This was a big drop in cost from the party noted above.

I need to stress that there was a lot of discussion with the union representatives to make certain that they understood the reasons for the cutbacks and would help to explain it to the employees. We also had the management team explain the reasons in the team and plant meetings prior to the lunch. It was obvious that the employees would have preferred a big party but they also understood that the management team was doing everything possible to keep the company in business and to preserve their jobs.

Published or Updated on: December 9, 2009 by Daniel G. Little © 2009
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