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Deck the Halls? Navigating the Holiday Season in the Workplace

12.06.2011

Editor’s note:   At The Alexander Group we are fortunate with a group of talented and creative writers who can blog about everything from the World Series to best practices in hiring.  With the Holiday Season and its rituals in full swing,   Bill Lepiesza and Katy Caudle blog this week and next about business holiday etiquette.  This week Katy suggests business etiquette for the Holiday Season, while next week Bill will write one of his highly acclaimed “Candidates Do the Darndest Things” blog dealing with—you guessed it—the company holiday party. 

Last week marked the official start of the holiday season (though if you ask retailers, it’s been in full swing since before Halloween, when they put up their Christmas decorations). As the office kitchen starts filling up with cookies and your social calendar is swimming in business Christmas parties, the workplace can transform into a minefield of social and professional etiquette. Here are a few tips we’ve assembled to make sure you don’t accidentally blow yourself up.

Behave at the office party. It should go without saying, but try to keep it under control at the office holiday party. If you bring a date, keep them under control too. Your drunken screaming match with another VP’s wife or your date’s rendition of Jingle Bells while standing on the dinner table will not be easy to explain under the fluorescent lights of your manager’s office the next morning. A personal favorite cautionary tale from a colleague: A law firm hosted their holiday party in the restaurant of a fancy hotel. Toward the end of the evening, a senior administrative executive was so drunk that she passed out and had to be loaded onto a luggage dolly by two partners, then unloaded into a room they booked for her for the evening. It also goes without saying that as an executive leader of your organization, this warning to limit your alcohol intake goes double.

Keep gifts reasonable and appropriate. If your office does a gift exchange, keep taste and your colleagues’ interests in mind. I once participated in a company white elephant gift exchange where they stipulated no gag gifts, and limited spending to $25. I was the second person to select a gift, which to my horror, was a plastic globe with a spigot, meant to hold and dispense liquor. I hoped the giver, one of my managers no less, had mistakenly assumed this white elephant was of the tacky variety (she hadn’t, and thought this was a wonderful gift). Further, several of my coworkers didn’t drink at all, so they wouldn’t have had any use for a liquor globe if they had been the proud new owner of such a unique gift. No one else wanted it either and it is still sitting in the box in my garage.

gave logoed golf balls as holiday gifts to clients. What we didn’t know was that the cheap ones we’d purchased were the Yugos of the golf ball world and worse, you can’t hand your client an individual golf ball (rather than the socially acceptable sleeve of golf balls) and expect them to be impressed. Moral of the story? If you’re giving a client a gift, make sure you know what you’re doing, or be prepared to suffer your clients’ laughter for the next decade.

Keep company culture in mind. If your workplace is a frenzy of gingersnaps and twinkle lights, by all means, feel free to dust off that reindeer sweater with the blinking red nose for the festivities. But if your work environment is more Scrooge than Tiny Tim, more Grinch than Cindy Lou Hoo, the battery-operated singing

Let employees know you value them. Evelyn Williams, associate vice president for leadership at Wake Forest’s Business School suggests that managers should take time to share their appreciation of individual efforts over the past year. After all, you’re probably sending your friends and family thoughtful holiday cards, and it’s likely you spend more time with your co-workers than you do with your cousin Betty in Tulsa. As Williams noted, “It’s a rare employee who says they get too much good feedback.”

As the year draws to a close, business dealings often slow down and there’s a greater likelihood that you’ll spend more time socializing with your coworkers than you normally do. Just don’t do anything that will keep them talking about you until next December! Next week, my colleague Bill Lepiesza will regale you with the holiday party edition of Candidates Do the Darndest Things.

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