Most companies do something at the holidays, although it seems to be less with each year, and certainly this holiday and the previous year have happened under economic storm clouds. I’ve seen companies that give out turkeys on Thanksgiving, $50 in lieu of turkey - which seems more practical to me, where do you keep a turkey at work? Xmas bonuses are not uncommon, though never guaranteed. Company parties are common, some informal and more of the pot luck style, some more formal, and sometimes seriously upscale – expensive restaurant and more. Departmental parties are common, often with some type of gift exchange.
It’s important to remember that work is social. We spend a lot of time at work. It’s also important to remember that we celebrate in different ways, and I don’t say this just for the sake of political correctness either. An unmarried and unattached employee may have a substantially different employee from the one that is married with two Santa aged children. You may have an employee that lost a parent or spouse during the year, or was divorced. Some are under financial stress. You get it, right? So the trick is to be social, try to have holiday cheer, and yet not push people into a celebration if they aren’t ready for it.
Just thinking about that kind of stuff, it starts to seem easier to do nothing doesn’t it?
Most employees will expect the company to do something for them at the holidays. Gift, bonus, party, something. Is that a fair expectation? Perhaps not fair, but not unreasonable either. It’s interesting to find a way to do something that is appreciated. Sometimes it’s the “what”, sometimes it’s the “how” – until you find the formula, hard to know. In general I think people appreciate and remember real gifts long after cash would be gone. Back when DVD players were just becoming affordable our CIO came in one morning pulling a cart of them, giving one to everyone in IT. A useful gift, appealing to the techie, and valued far more than had she given out $100 gift cards. I have a friend that when managing picked individual gifts for his team – a movie that one might like, maybe a book or something hobby related for another, etc. Even if he got it wrong, they saw the effort. My last time managing a team I went with the same gifts for everyone, coffee cups from The New Yankee Workshop one year, another year a nice multi-tool.
You’ll see that I’m mixing up the giving – is the company or the manager? I think ideally both. The company does something for everyone, managers do something for their teams on top of that. Gifts from the company come out of some magical expense account, gifts from a manager though – usually that is out of their pocket, and I suspect employees rarely realize the difference. Does it matter? Hard question isn’t it?
Not everything you can do costs a lot of money. Doughnuts and bagels always well received, a coffee run to Starbucks, a long lunch, giving everyone a couple unexpected hours off. A holiday card signed by senior managers is always nice too. Contractors are probably easy to forget at this time of year. In general I recommend treating anyone working with you on a regular basis the same as the rest of the team when it comes to non-cash gifts. If employees are getting cash, exert some effort to give them some type of gift.
As an employee, I think it’s ok to expect some sort of celebration of the holidays at work, and to temper that with an understanding that it’s been a difficult year. Managers, hard year or not, understand that it’s still expected, and rather than see it as a burden, hopefully you’ll see it as a time to be creative about showing your appreciation for the work they do for you. Employers, do something, and as much as gifts often resonate longer than cash, for many families cash is probably the more useful gift in this particular year.
Have you seen something done at holidays that really worked or didn’t work? I’d be interested in hearing about it.