Navigating the Holidays at Work
If your work culture is anything like mine, you work alongside folks who love the holidays…all of them. Desks, doors and hallways are commonly festooned with seasonally appropriate décor from bunnies and fake flowers in April to culturally inclusive “winter holiday” trappings starting just after the Halloween stuff gets bagged. While I’ve gotten used to the blurry line between how one decorates in their private home versus workplace professionalism, December seems to present unique challenges for anyone who works in any office culture. Office holiday parties, department holiday lunches, holiday sweater contests, toy drives, Secret Santa, not-so-secret Santas…it can feel a bit much at times. How do you navigate not only your actual work responsibilities and schedule but the expectations and assumptions of your office’s work culture?
There are two great articles about various ways to handle the ubiquitous work parties and customs. The Muse has an article by Elizabeth Alterman specifically about the holiday office party – a great perspective especially for those that work in large companies or industries where networking is important. NPR’s Life Kit recently did a piece that included questions from listeners about workplace etiquette during the holidays (including the awkward “I got my boss’s name in the Secret Santa drawing” scenario).
When it comes to the holiday party and whether or not you should go, I would say, “It depends.” There is value in showing up and being social – even if it feels totally out of your element. Look at your industry. Does it value relationships and interactions between staff on a level equal with its actual product or service? There’s no harm in going for 30 minutes, eating a tasteless cube of cheese and quietly slipping out before Karen from Finance starts the annual Christmas Conga. If you’ve got kids, pets, another job or plants that need watered, you’ve always got an out…sort of. Read on.
One of the pressures of holidays at work can be what seems constant and over-the-top celebrations and festivities. If you’re easily overwhelmed by glitter, tinsel and fake Christmas trees on every corner table, consider working remotely or taking some extra time off in December. Holiday sweater contests not your thing? Fake an important meeting off-site or pretend to have forgotten and express regret and your best version of “Oh darn! This is sooooo fun and I totally love your sweater (that I’ve seen you wear each year for five years).” And speaking of faking it, don’t get caught. Claimed that you’re missing post-work drinks with coworkers because of your spouse’s work party? Be smart with social media and don’t trap yourself in an awkward white lie.
The takeaway is that you don’t have to be your office’s version of “Elf” just to fit in. Respect your own boundaries and limits while understanding that, for some, the holiday celebrations at work are equally (or even more) meaningful than their private celebrations. Unless you struggle with some real social anxiety issues or other factors that limit your ability to participate during the holidays, a little fake cheer never hurt anyone.
Or take December off…that works too.
My thoughts and reactions to the world in which we live...completely biased and unfiltered.