I have been employed in some manner off and on since 1974 and I can count on one hand the number of decent holiday work gatherings. People want to have a party. People want to share. All of these are good things. Managers, I can hear you now saying you want to promote some goodwill and team spirit. I get it. I really do. I also know that many people love celebrating the holidays with co-workers. So as your resident party pooper in charge, let me lay it out there for you.
I call this the season of “forced fun.” Usually there is one crazy Christmas person in every office that wants everyone to “get into the spirit” of the holidays. (Coincidentally, these are usually the same people that are hell bent on cheerfulness before 9 am.) These party people insist on activities, parties, decorations and gift exchanges. In my working life, I have seen and/or participated in crazy activities ranging from booze filled, career-ending cocktail parties to insane Secret Santa games that extend over weeks and involve a lot of money and effort.
Before everyone accuses me of having a less than generous spirit, let me explain. First, holidays aren’t always good times for people. For me personally, December has been a nightmare for at least a couple of decades with some kind of disaster ranging from a family member’s death to a hospitalization of a child. I was having trouble just getting to work and staying upright. I did not want to do a stupid Secret Santa exchange or someone to tell me that all I need to do is smile and wear a Santa hat.
I can already hear those people saying: “but our office/library is different.” No, it isn’t. Even if you are extremely close to your co-workers, you cannot possibly know all the things that they are coping with at the time. Tight budgets, time constraints and general family pressures can make participating in such an office party more than difficult. Don’t add to the stress by insisting on full participation in holiday parties and activities, especially if some kind of contribution on the part of the employee is required. I know I am not made of money for endless food and gifts.
If a boss asks me to attend a function, even if it is a party, there is no way I will consider this purely social. It now becomes a work obligation. No matter how nice the invitation, how casual the gathering or how fabulous the relationship is with your employees, there will always be the hint of a boss asking an underling to do something. That means it now becomes work. (My husband is fond of saying that he usually needs to be paid in order to hang out with his office, so a holiday party is not a treat unless there is cash involved.) One passive-aggressive boss I had a long time ago wanted everyone to “want” to come celebrate on a weekend night. It was like pieces of flair only in party form.
As we crawl into the season of holiday angst, I urge bosses and managers to tread carefully. Review policies and make sure no one feels pressured to participate or purposely excluded from any office-wide activity. As I am a long standing victim of holiday forced fun, I urge you to read and then re-read, the Ask a Manager blog. (This link takes you right to a holiday discussion.) There is a host of good advice for everyone to use on holiday gifts and parties. Sharing and celebrating can be done, just do it right.
Mary (designated party pooper)