There are many factors to how holidays are handled in the workplace. Work schedules and demands, time off, decorations, and holiday parties all factor into how the season is incorporated into an office space and received by the employees who work there.
Last year, we polled our readers to find out what they loved and hated about holidays in the workplace. We received nearly 3,000 responses! We explored both the good AND the bad because, well, that’s life! While we attempt to focus on the positive and provide hope for improving workplaces, we are also committed to being reality-based.
So, what did we learn?
Clearly, people value time off from work during the holidays. A whopping 78% listed it as the thing they enjoy most. Likewise, many people reported resentment for having to work on the holidays, not being allowed to take time off, and the increased pressure of getting year-end tasks done.
Some results, when compared between the two polls, show that there are some activities that many people really enjoy, while others really dislike those same activities. Examples include:
- gift exchanges among colleagues
- holiday meals together
- listening to Christmas and holiday music at work
- attending work-related holiday celebrations after work.
The conclusion from these seemingly conflicting results? Reading the stories people shared shed some light on the issue. First, people are different (surprise!). Some like certain activities, while others dislike them. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, how the activity was done seems to have a big impact on people’s responses. Was generosity involved (or did employees have to pay or do the work themselves)? Were the interactions respectful or rude and hurtful?
The worst of the bad
We asked people to write and tell us examples of their worst holiday experience related to work. You can read samples of the “my worst holiday work experience” stories submitted by over 900 readers. I’m sure you’ll have similar reactions as I did to some (“You’ve got to be kidding me!”).
There were several, common, repetitive themes from the example stories shared. Each of the following topics had numerous examples given.
- having to work on the holidays or having to use PTO for the holiday;
- a lack of focus on the holidays, not being able to celebrate ‘Christmas’ (as opposed to a ‘winter celebration’, but also examples of being from a different religious background and feeling forced to celebrate Christmas);
- negative behaviors and poor judgment resulting from excessive consumption of alcohol;
- embarrassing experiences during White Elephant/Secret Santa gift giving.
How to turn ‘what I hate’ into ‘what I love’
If we only report the results without giving some practical suggestions, this exercise is a waste of time. So here are some practical tips for employers and managers that can be gleaned from the results:
- Leave ample time for employees to work on the extra year end tasks and reports. Be aware that people feel a “time crunch” both in their personal lives as well as at work.
- Whenever possible, don’t create artificial deadlines for work to be completed. If possible, let some of the tasks and reports be done in January.
- Don’t force your employees to participate in gift giving exchanges (explicitly or implicitly). In fact, see how many people really want to participate; consider not doing a gift exchange activity–the irritation created may not be worth the effort and keeping to prior tradition.
- Be sensitive to scheduling issues and time requirements during the holidays, especially with regards to after work hours events.
- If you are going to have a meal to celebrate, provide the food (or at least the main course) and account for those who don’t eat meat.
The best of the good
When asked what aspects of the holiday season they enjoy the most, time off work came in at the top. It was closely followed, though, by things that fall into the category of ‘the spirit of the season’: Christmas lights, listening to Christmas and holiday music, extra time with family and friends, the spiritual meaning of the holidays, and family traditions.
When asked what they enjoy about things that happen at their workplace during the holidays, time off work was the clear winner. The other top responses involved sharing holiday meals with co-workers, enjoying Christmas cookies and holiday snacks, receiving a bonus, and having a special holiday party.
When people sent us responses about their favorite work-related holiday stories, we were touched by the stories that were both fun and heart-warming.
As I have stated previously to leaders and HR professionals, you can’t please everyone, so be ready for some negative responses, criticisms, and suggestions for what to do differently next year. These types of comments will almost certainly happen, so be ready, and don’t let them discourage you.
Just as people differ, so do groups. If at all possible, get input from the group (or representatives) ahead of time. Listen to what they don’t want to do, and avoid those activities. And try to incorporate at least some of what they suggest into the plan for next year’s celebrations.
Finally, adopt a positive attitude:
enjoy the food and your friends.
Consider the desires and preferences of others.
Determine to have a good time regardless of other people’s reactions.
Chances are good that you will!