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Meaning, Merriment and the Occasional Misstep

by Dan King

Photo of office workers partying‘Tis the season … that magical time of year when we offer tidings of comfort and joy to others. And here in the year 2010, we could certainly use some of that. But how do we promote goodwill within the diverse range of customs and traditions we share?

Quite simply, we each continue to honor our own traditions, values and beliefs and allow others to do the same. In other words, “you do your thing and I’ll do mine” — and if in the process we come together, then let’s celebrate.

And celebrate we do. Many organizations choose this time of year to honor their employees, rightly or wrongly, with the all-inclusive Holiday Office Party. You may not be one to brim with joy in anticipation of this annual event, but you should still go. If you skip this celebration of the season, you’re apt to feel the political frost nipping at your nose well into the New Year.

Attendance at holiday gatherings is important to your reputation and to the perception others have of you—as an employee, as a team member and as a leader. Career success doesn’t come from just doing your job well. It comes from cultivating a strong network of relationships along the way. Holiday parties offer an excellent opportunity to display your unique gifts.

It’s Not About the Food

Although office holiday parties are abundant with food and beverages, the purpose is decidedly far greater than eating and drinking. The intent is to express gratitude, generosity and goodwill. If you choose to see it as an opportunity to chow down at your company’s expense, you’ll be missing the point. Scarfing down shrimp while swilling down the free beer is not likely to put you in the best light. When the conversation turns to work issues — and it will — the splat of cocktail sauce on your shirt will certainly diminish your credibility.

Play it wise — eat before you go to the party. Let your less savvy co-workers dive into the festive holiday fare, while you use your time to build acquaintances with others. Ask about their families, their backgrounds, their holiday plans. You may just learn about some interesting holiday customs and traditions.

If you do partake of spirits, limit yourself to one drink, and then shift to soda or water. Over-indulgence may elevate you to “life of the party” status, but it can spell the “death of your career.” Back in the office, as opportunities arise for someone to represent your organization at important business functions, it won’t be you. You’ll be relegated to winter never land.

Give Unto Others As You Would Have Them Give Unto You

Holiday parties inspire thoughtful gestures, like gift giving. We’ve all been taught, “It’s the thought that counts.” But at work, the gift speaks louder. Use good judgment. Don’t bring a gift that you wouldn’t be happy to receive yourself. Funny gag gifts may spur short-term laughs, but they do little to enhance working relationships. Don’t allow others to become the butt of jokes. Work egos can be very fragile.

Years ago I worked for an organization where we drew names out of a hat — and I drew the name of a guy named Fred who worked in Finance. I knew very little about Fred’s likes and interests — and, as I quickly learned, neither did anyone else. Playing it safe, I bought him a fruitcake. When the time came to open it, Fred quickly misinterpreted my intentions and went berserk (thereby confirming the appropriateness of my gift, but setting the stage for a difficult relationship with the finance department over the next two years).

I suppose it’s only fitting that the fruitcake be a perennial symbol of the season. Much like the office holiday party, it’s made up of a concoction of diverse and disparate elements, all thrown together and displayed as one cohesive unit. Some of the ingredients may cause you to rejoice — others give reason to revolt. But it endures long after the celebrations have ended.

Many Times, Many Ways

As you join in the merriment of the season, embrace the multiplicity of rituals and observances that bind us. The true meaning of the season in any culture emphasizes the giving over the getting. In this spirit, I urge you to give to others — send a note of gratitude, share with someone in need, or just give the gift of listening. It can make a difference in someone’s life. We are all on this planet together, for the long run. So let’s make it joyful …

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