November 27, 2018

Navigating holiday minefields in the workplace

Is your office getting festive?

Love it or hate it, many professional environments are embracing the spirit of the season, and so you’re probably finding yourself navigating party invitations, complicated questions about gift-giving and more.  Every office is different, and so there aren’t simple answers that work for everyone.

But above all, if you embrace the opportunity to connect and bring a spirit of generosity to your interactions with others, you’ll survive and even thrive in this sometimes wonderful, and sometimes stressful season.

Party time

The company party has a reputation for being:

a. pretty much the last place you’d want to spend your Friday or Saturday night.

b. a minefield of alcohol and inappropriate behavior

c. both.

I think we all know the answer there. But navigated carefully, holiday parties will enable you to connect with colleagues in new ways, meet new people and possibly even enhance your career.  They can be satisfying, beneficial and even — dare I say it? — pretty fun.  So how do you handle navigating this kind of event?

Actually attend:  If you’re tempted to decline the invite, resist.  In fact, business etiquette expert Lydia Ramsey says the holiday party should be thought of as mandatory.  Company leaders will likely be there, and if you’re there, your presence will be noticed.  And the great thing about a party is many of the barriers that might keep you from talking directly with, say, the CEO are a nonissue.

Introduce yourself:  Potential allies are all around you.  If you’re standing in a food line next to a stranger, seize the moment.  Social settings are perfect for forging new connections that can benefit your career, so think of it as a chance to network, and make an effort to work the room, Ramsey advises.

Build on existing relationships:  Leadership expert Evelyn Williams recommends embracing the opportunity to deepen existing connections: “don’t make it about your agenda. It’s a great time to practice inquiry vs. advocacy. Use your listening skills to really bond on a relational level.”

Have fun … but not too much fun:  There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a glass of wine if you like or enjoying some laughs with colleagues, but be careful and save the raucous celebration for personal gatherings.  Memories are long, and you want to feel good about your holiday party experience.  Decide in advance on your limit for alcohol (many experts recommend a two-drink maximum), proceed with caution on the dance floor and err on the side of professional when choosing clothing.  If you’re unsure if something is a good idea, go with your gut and don’t do it.  Remember the primary reason you’re there — your career.

To gift or not to gift?

Should you buy gifts for your colleagues?  Your direct reports or your boss?  Anyone and everyone who buys a gift for you?  And if you gift … what should you give?

Thinking about gift giving can get stressful quickly.  Before you let your worries snowball, take a step back and consider your office culture.  Are holidays a big deal at your workplace?  Gift-giving may be perfectly appropriate.  And it is common: A LinkedIn survey found nearly half of people planned to give something to their peers last year, and about one-third planned to give something to superiors.  But that doesn’t make finding the right approach easy.

Don’t break the bank: It’s an expensive time of year.  And giving is about … giving.  Not meeting expectations or causing stress.  If your goal is to demonstrate appreciation and warmth (and that’s exactly what your goal should be), remember it doesn’t take more than a handwritten note conveying a personal, heartfelt sentiment to do that.  A thoughtful gift can be a wonderful complement to that sentiment, but it doesn’t have to have a big price tag.  In fact, an over-the-top item can make people uncomfortable — not at all what you’re going for.

Choose carefully:  Avoid gifts that feel overly personal (perfume comes to mind), and consider what you do and don’t know about someone.  Wine for an aficionado might be a nice choice, but not for someone on a sobriety journey.  Cash also isn’t a good choice (unless it’s a holiday bonus), but a gift card can be if you choose the right outlet.

Be fair:  If you’re buying gifts for some people on your team but not others, that won’t send a very good message.  Consider the optics of your holiday gift list, and also recognize that gifts usually flow down.  Your boss is probably more likely to give you something than the reverse, and that’s perfectly OK.

Consider an organized approach: If people start selecting gifts for colleagues, direct reports, their superiors … the lists can get long very quickly.  If you are committed to a spirit of giving in the workplace, consider a secret gift exchange idea.  Or better yet, perhaps everyone can partner together on a charitable venture like adopting a few families in need.

Whatever you decide, keep in mind that not everyone celebrates the same holidays in the same way (and some people may not celebrate at all).  Many people would prefer to keep holiday gifts out of the workplaceHowever you approach gifting, remember the issue can be sensitive.  Focus on the message and not the price tag, and think through how it will be perceived.  At the end of the day, make sure the people around you know that you appreciate them.  That’s good advice for any day, at any time of year.

How do you approach the holidays at work?

Please share your thoughts, experiences, and even gift ideas in the comments.  And a very happy December to you however or whatever you do or don’t celebrate!

Last updated November 27, 2018