It was a holiday hullabaloo of the first order with a steel drum band on the south side of the building, a bag piper to the north and the employee rock band performing in the building atrium.
The main elevator lobby was a winter wonderland complete with carolers, but it was the sight of a massive whole roasted pig on the counter of the receptionist desk that made it clear this was not your typical staff Christmas party.
It was a joyful, noisy, fun party. But what made it a legend in the corporate offices of San Francisco’s financial district was the employee talent show. There was a mix of singers and dancers and a few stupid human tricks, but one particular dancer stole the show.
Joyce’s dance showed off her flexibility, strength and balance and the audience was amazed; she was performing a modified pole dance for the staff Christmas party. Most of her clothing remained in place, but everyone agreed it was a pole dance. We learned after the show that Joyce had spent some years in Vegas as a dancer.
The dance itself was not spectacular. What amazed everyone watching was that Joyce was out on workers’ compensation for back pain and a stiff neck that came from a slip in the cafeteria.
She was midway through a six-week leave. We were expecting a song, but when the music started she began to dance, and everyone in the room knew that Joyce’s long run of minor accidents and worker’s comp leaves was at an end. The talent show was being taped for third-shift employees, and the tape showed a woman with quite a range of motion, flexibility and no evidence of strain or pain.
But take away the pig and the pole dancer and this was still a great staff party.
No speeches, but personal words of praise. More than anything this was a party that celebrated the end of a tough year. New products had been launched and there had been problems. Management and employees had to work some long, hard hours. But they overcame the problems and there was a sense of relief that the year was over and a good foundation was in place for the new year. This party was a celebration of accomplishment.
The management team spent a good part of the day wandering the building, stopping to talk with employees individually and in small groups. They were able to be specific in their praise and appreciation of the employees’ hard work. They had a good word for each department and many individuals were singled out for exceptional results or steadfast work throughout the year.
A sincere word of praise is treasured and is quickly repeated to family and friends. If someone asked these employees “How’s it going at work?” they could respond with pride and repeat what the boss had said at the Christmas party.
No employee gifts please. In past years the division employees were all given gifts. There may have been a few who appreciated the miniature cheese board from two years previous, but no one was happy with the golf umbrellas with the company logo from the previous year. It was year five in a seven year drought.
The employee party committee had asked to use the budget reserved for the annual company gift and adopt some families in need for the holidays. It felt so much better to do some good with the money.
It was an inclusive celebration. Some organizations will limit the holiday party and gifts to full-time employees. Temporary or contract workers are asked to hold the fort while the employees go off to a nice lunch. The third-shift employees get to enjoy whatever is left, but not at this party. The third shift had a fresh buffet, senior managers in attendance, a mini talent show plus a fascinating video. Everyone was included, everyone was thanked.
This took place at a time before Christmas parties became “holiday” parties, but the employees who organized it made it a point to bring in traditions from around the world. An office in the Bay Area usually includes many first generation Americans as well as employees with green card status.
Everyone was invited to bring in food that was part of their traditional family celebrations or represented their country of birth. The employees tasted and talked and enjoyed learning about different religions, traditions and foods. It was a holiday party that welcomed people who had not grown up with the Christ child in a manger and reindeer on the roof.
I have attended many staff holiday parties since, and no amount of elegant dining or eloquent speeches can match the joyful spirit of the party with the pig and the pole dancer.
Virginia Detweiler is a human resources consultant and has taught business and management at Walla Walla Community College and Walla Walla University. Got a question for her? Submit it to her email address at email@example.com or call her at 509-529-1910. Questions used in her column will be edited to remove information that would identify the sender.