Yes, Virginia, the holidays can be jolly


’Tis the month before Christmas, and all through the house

the employees are scurrying — to please their new boss.

Good results are achieved and reported with flair

in hopes of big profits — and they’d each have a share.

But instead, they each received tiny cheeseboards.

And that’s just one of the many reasons I would like to untangle Christmas and the workplace.

Now let’s be clear right up front that I am all for celebrating the birth of Christ. There is nothing better than a Christmas Eve service, a reading of Luke, Chapter 2, a handbell choir and carols sung with joy. I love both the religious and secular Christmas celebration. (The commercialization of Christmas that begins before pumpkins are carved — I can do without.)

No other holiday is really brought into the workplace. No other holiday comes with so many family traditions — so many “right” and “wrong” ways to decorate, eat and share this season of joy. With many people stressed from shopping, traveling, decorating — and keeping both sides of the family happy — why do we add the workplace into the mix of holiday stressors?

Working in human resources, I’ve come to expect complaints:

The tree in the lobby — fake vs. real, and, “Oh the horror! It’s pink.”

The stingy budget for department parties, the menu for the holiday party, the neglect of the third-shift workers, who is and isn’t allowed to take off early on Christmas Eve.

Even the thoughtful, generous boss was a cause for complaint; he made the employees working for Scrooge feel even worse.

Yes indeed, the holiday season in some workplaces made me eager to see Jan. 2 arrive.

The organizations with a mix of people with diverse backgrounds and religious beliefs didn’t sour me on this holiday. The real whining and vitriol came in the organizations that went full Santa, Frosty, Joseph and Mary (and the donkey Mary rode in on). They wanted the holiday to be celebrated correctly: Their way.

November and December were always my busiest months as a consultant. Throughout December I was traveling from company to company, conducting training classes and meeting with employees. I was prepared to answer questions about jobs and pay, but I heard as much about the holiday party, Christmas trees and gifts as I did about the changes we were making to jobs. I was an outsider and a safe ear to complain to.

There is no way to make everyone happy during the holiday season, but I have a few recommendations that might make the season a bit more peaceful.


Remember that it’s the owner’s place of business. Like it or not, the boss may be happy with just a few large poinsettias in the lobby. It’s seasonal, simple and perfectly fine. If the boss wants to use a florist to bring in some elegance and creative flair, the employees should be willing to enjoy the display for a few weeks — without complaint.

The boss should make a few rules about holiday decorations and keep them simple. Are employees allowed to decorate their work spaces? What about the common areas? Can lights can be hung or real trees brought in? Will there be any budget provided for decorating or small department parties?

Set the rules and don’t waiver or make exceptions.


Don’t pointedly exclude people. Whether based on employment status or friendship it hurts to be separated out and excluded. Temporary, contract and part-time employees have feelings and should be included in the holiday party or luncheon, and if everyone else is getting a gift or bonus they should be included, even if the amount is smaller.

A photo of the boss is not a gift. It may be hand painted on a fine china plate, and it is still not a gift. And the boss’s photo on fake money? That tops the list of bad gifts.

Company promotional material is not a gift. (Calendars, pens, scratch pads — anything with the company logo.)

Time away from work — a priceless gift. If the year went well, an extra day or half day off in the new year will be appreciated by everyone.

Or the gift everyone can use at this time of year (with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore):

The boss sprang to his desk, to his team gave a whistle

And forward they flew with thoughts of the fiscal.

They heard him exclaim as he handed out checks

A happy year we have had, and here’s to the next!

Virginia Detweiler, based in Walla Walla, provides human resource services and management training to businesses in southeastern Washington with her firm HR Partner on Call. Her columns are written as a service to employers and employees and rely on reader questions and comments for topical material. Contact her by email at or phone at 509-529-1910. Because of job and employer sensitivities, care is taken to protect identities.


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