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Holidays and Parties, Gift, Expectations, and Wishes

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.


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by cweber on 18 December 2009

We plan our own celebration.  We rent out a conference room and have everyone bring a dish to pass.  Then we each bring wrap presents ($10 value) for a white elephant exchange and do Christmas trivia and things like that.  

Posted by Steve Jones on 18 December 2009

I heard on the radio that a local business, a few hundred people in it, gave up their party to donate the money to a charity and worked to help feed people instead. I thought that was a good move this year. Working at the food bank, I see a lot of people struggling this year.

This would be a good time to limit the celebration, as long as you're limiting management bonuses as well. Management should be the last ones to get a bonus if it's been a hard year.

Posted by jcrawf02 on 18 December 2009

We've done things like adopt a local family and buy gifts for them, a former manager picked out desk calendars that fit each person's interests (I got Dave Barry quotes) this year my team isn't doing anything, our corporate party was changed into a luncheon on-site.

Steve's comment about management last is a good thought. That's all I'm gonna say.

Posted by Stephanie J Brown on 19 December 2009

In past years, we've had both a company party, and money allocated for departmental luncheons.  Each department ("group") could pick the day and time, and had a decent dollar amount per person to spend.  I really liked the lunch thing - it's a chance to get away from work, and while the talk usually starts with work-related subjects, it quickly evolves into more personal subjects.  It's a great break, and very energizing.  Not sure if we're doing the lunches this year, but the company party was well attended, and a great chance to catch up with some of the telecommuters that I don't see too often.  And the company saved a little money this year by holding it at a "yacht club" that one of the RVPs belongs to - the club is entirely run by volunteers, including the cook, so the food was the only real cost (and boy, was it yummy!)  That's a smart way to save money in the current economy, and there's always the opportunity to give back when times are better.

We also do food drives at this time of year, and buy gifts for employees who are challenged this year - all anonymous, of course.  And individuals bring in treats of course, so we'll all be well sugared-up by Christmas!  :)

Posted by b.ozga on 21 December 2009

A company where I work traditionally invites us for half-formal dinner, it was really nice even if it started with 20 minutes boring speech of the boss ;-) and I hope it will be nice today evening, but I wanted to share a story with you about Xmas dinner with my friends.

Last weekend my foreigner friends wanted to celebrate in traditional polish way on Christmas Eve with sharing the bread, twelve dishes, and giving each other gifts before they go to their countries on holiday.

We had agreed that everybody brings a unisex present and after dinner we draw presents. I bought a cup with a clipper as climbers have to hold it or hook somewhere :-) I decide for this present because I knew that most of my friends like hiking so I think it was kind of unisex gift, isn’t it?

And you know what I drew? I am a guy so I expected everything but not a teddy bear :-)

But I really like the person (I found out who prepared it how she was looking at me when I was unwraping) who prepared it so I appreciate it. She called my teddy as she calling her cat in Italy …cucciollone :D

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