Should I buy my team gifts?
Emma: No. I understand the impulse — you make more money than them, after all. But I’ve always found gifts from my boss awkward and underwhelming: another $5 Starbucks gift card, a ziplock bag of homemade Chex Mix, slightly crushed from their commute.
Andy: I once had a budget for gift giving and got every single person an identical gift card. Yep. Whoops! It was the least heartfelt thing I’ve ever done. I felt like a parent flying home from Tokyo with some t-shirts from an airport kiosk. I’m pretty sure my team felt the same way.
Emma: I think of gifts like compliments, insomuch as the only ones worth giving are personal and specific. If you’re going to gift the people on your team anything this time of year, gift that: personal and specific appreciation for them and their work. Even if it’s just blocking out five minutes in each report’s last 1-on-1 of the year to celebrate their individual accomplishments. One year, I took 15 minutes of our final team meeting to give shoutouts to all 25 people on the team. It was festive and from my heart and was a better gift, I think, than I could afford to give in presents.
Andy: I’ve had better experiences using gift cards as a way for the people on my team to thank each other. I kept a stash of them in my desk and said, “Come get one to give any time.” It bred a sense of joy and warmth. In fact, we did that all year, not just during December.
How much should I promote “holiday spirit” this time of year?
Emma: I say don’t block holiday spirit, but also release yourself from feeling like you need to foster it.
Andy: Totally agree. I’ll get on board with a Secret Santa with about the same willingness I’ll go on a barcycle as part of a bridal party event. I’ll do it, but it’s not my idea of the best way to spend a Friday night.
Emma: For a long time, I thought it was my responsibility as a manager to spearhead festivities — Secret Santas and potlucks and cookie swaps, oh my! But spearheading festivities takes time I resent giving up. And since I’m the boss, those festivities can become an obligation for my team.
Andy: Holiday festivities work best when they’re organized from the bottom up, not installed top down. I think that a lot of people don’t actually want there to be a ton of holiday celebration at the office. By not instituting festivities, you give that part of the office space to be non-celebratory, too.
Emma: Right. Now, if someone asks me, “Can we do a team Jingle Bell 5K?” I’ll say “Sure thing!” Will I be running it with them? Probably not.
I have to balance my team’s work load with office festivities. Any tips?
Emma: This is a deeply challenging question for me to answer, mostly because I am terrible at it.
The big problem is that everyone thinks November and December are special months where you get to relax a little bit and recharge. Everyone: C-level senior management all the way on down. ‘Tis the season! But on paper, November and December are just months — and if you work in any sort of retail business, they are the Most Important Months of All.
As a manager, you’re asked to balance extremely contradictory expectations. Your team is buried in work, and you all want more vacation time. Your goals are the most aggressive of the year, and your calendar keeps getting blown up with office-wide happy hours and gift exchanges and a holiday party and wait, are these all mandatory?
It’s really an institutional problem, expecting the same amount of work to be done in less time. Regardless: You and your team should go to pretty much all of the office-wide events, pretty close to on time, and for at least 25 minutes. I think it reflects too poorly on you and your team not to — that you’re not invested in company culture, that you’re behind in your work. Those reasons don’t feel good. They are more about optics than reality. But that’s just the way it is. Rally your team with good humor. (“Yay a happy hour let’s goooooo!”) Offer your help to people who are behind. And next year, campaign for fewer holiday activities.
Andy: If you can swing things like giant holiday bonuses, or massively inflated holiday overtime pay, do it. One Thanksgiving day, I happily wrote Groupons for something like $1,000.
I look back and appreciate managers who’ve kicked me out the door for the holidays. One heard I was cooking the Thanksgiving turkey and was like, “Get out of here. Go cook your turkey.” He reminded me that the world was bigger, and there were things in it that were going to last longer than that job, that KPI, whatever it was that I was sitting at my desk for. I still love him for that.
There’s a lot of joy at the holidays, but people are also dealing with tons of out-of-the-office stressors. Maybe your family is in town, maybe you’re missing family that’s gone, or flying over the holidays on a crowded plane full of sneezers to be with them. Perhaps it’s snowing and really cold, too. I say kick yourself out of the office. Kick everyone out. If you can’t hit the goals, you can’t hit the goals. They must have been unreasonable. (I am still learning this…)
How do I act at my company’s holiday party?
Emma: Arrive within 30 minutes of the start time. Drink enough to laugh at everyone’s jokes and then drink water. Say hello to everyone on your team. Introduce yourself to their significant others and tell them nice and funny stories about their partner. Say hello to your boss, and their boss too. Thank the people who put the party together and tell them it’s beautiful. Don’t talk about work to anyone. If people start making fools of themselves, be gracious and helpful and then don’t ever bring it up again.
Andy: Always eat dinner beforehand, even if food is being served. If there’s a photo booth, look dumb but don’t actually be dumb. Skip all after parties.
Good Boss Achievement Stickers: Holiday Party Edition