When Celebrations Abound – What Should We Acknowledge at Work?

Ah, fall is in the air in the Northern Hemisphere. In the U.S. that creates many opportunities (or excuses) for people to celebrate. Your favorite MLB team may have just made the playoffs (Go Tribe!), or your NFL team or college team have just started the quest for domination. Then there are the traditional fall celebrations of Halloween and Thanksgiving, and as the year draws to a close, the many celebrations that happen during the time many refer to as Christmas.

All of this tends to bleed over into the workplace to some degree. Some companies have controls that they put over this, others invite employees to express themselves as they wish. Wear your team colors. Come to work dressed as a clown. Have a team pot-luck in celebration of “the holidays”. Just don’t cross over the line, wherever the line is.

Some go even further, having always had a holiday party (formerly known as the Christmas party) and unwilling to end this tradition out of concern for hurting employee morale, they have just one more. I’ve seen events hosted at local hotels, and some right in the workplace cafeteria. I’ve seen them adult-centered, and I have seen them arranged for the kids.

I’ve never worked somewhere that explicitly invited costumes for Halloween. And most Halloween costumes might well be considered as outside the acceptable dress code.

If Saint Patrick’s Day was in October instead of March, we would probably see people trying to build that into work as well.

If you as a leader or an HR partner are thinking about whether or not there should be company recognition or support of all this fourth-quarter cheer, I have a few suggestions.

  1. You should have a well-written people strategy that identifies the specific ways in which people are recognized and teamwork is encouraged and developed. I’ve never seen a strategy that suggests that a holiday party is key to the success of a business and in the retention of its people.
  2. An adequate dress code should take care of costumes. And if an employee decides that their pirate costume isn’t really an issue and they wear it anyway, you may need to refer them to the paragraph regarding “distraction of other employees”.
  3. If people are socializing about their favorite sports teams, remind them to keep that to break time and other opportunities outside of the business at hand. I once had to coach a team leader that his evaluation of a worker as “not a team player” was not acceptable.  The employee had complained that the fist 20 minutes of every Monday meeting in the fall involved a dissection of the Packer’s game, and was thus a waste of his time. I agreed.  Let people wear their colors on Fridays.
  4. Nothing good comes from sponsoring an event where alcohol is provided – even as a cash bar option. Some will think it was the best party ever, others will just not go and feel that they should be given a restaurant gift card. See #1.
  5. If you lead a team or a whole department, don’t let November and December pass by without thanking your employees for their efforts this year. Don’t wait until January.

Call me a Grinch if you like. I enjoy my co-workers, and we may have the pot-luck lunch, or even an informal gift exchange. But under no pressure and no expectation of involvement. Just for those who would like to participate. All at our own expense. I would be happy taking a three hour turn in the dunk tank during the safety fair (which I did) and let the employees drop me in the cold water. It’s social, fun, and work-related. Those are events I can get behind.



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