The Top 10 Holiday Aggravations at Work

Tips for surviving the most irksome corporate culture issues this holiday.

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Alison Green
With holiday season upon us, it's the time for workplace gift exchanges, holiday parties, and charity drives—and with them, accompanying aggravations. Here are the top 10 most aggravating elements of holidays in the office.

1. Company holiday parties that are mandatory to attend. Companies usually hold these events because they believe they build employee morale—but it's important to take a look at whether they actually do. Some staffers truly don't enjoy these sorts of functions, and that's OK. Requiring their presence under the guise of giving them a treat will hurt morale, not build it. If the party is meant as a gift, you can't turn it into an obligation, so don't penalize people for not going, even just in your head.

2. Company parties that not everyone can attend. While not everyone will want to attend the company party, certainly anyone who wants to should be able to. Yet some companies still leave the receptionist covering the phone while everyone else goes to the party, or require some employees "work" at the celebration (as caterers, coat checkers, etc.).

3. Charging employees to attend the company party. Asking employees to pay to attend a work event, even if it's social in nature, is never appropriate. If the company can't afford the party on its own, it shouldn't be hosting such a lavish event.

4. Efforts at religious inclusion that end up offending. For instance, putting Hanukkah ornaments on a Christmas tree or inviting all staff to participate in a religious prayer are good ways to offend some employees inadvertently.

5. Being pressured to participate in office gift exchanges. For every person who enjoys the ritual, there's at least one more who resents the expectation, especially at a time of year when budgets are often already stretched thin. Many people resent being expected to give up their hard-earned cash in the place they go to earn money, not spend it. Even worse…

6. Being expected to chip in for an expensive gift for the boss. Even though etiquette says that gifts in the workplace should flow downward, not upward (if they're given at all), many offices still expect workers to contribute to a present for the boss.

7. Receiving "gifts" from your employer that you can't use. Whether it's a bottle of wine when you don't drink, a turkey when you're a vegetarian, or a gift card to a store you never go to, most employees would rather have a bonus or an extra day off than a gesture that doesn't actually reward them.

8. Being pressured to participate in workplace charity drives. Charity drives can be a great thing, but when employees are pressured to donate, they end up feeling resentful and not in the least charitable. Some offices even monitor who does and doesn't participate, and directly order people to hand over cash if they haven't yet contributed.

9. Having two classes of holiday celebration. Employees notice when companies buy expensive gifts for managers but hand lower-level employees coffee-shop gift cards. Even worse, some companies go so far as to have two separate holiday parties—a swanky celebration for higher-ups and a low-budget party for everyone else.

10. Extravagant office parties while the company is laying off staff. There's no better way to demoralize employees than to eliminate staff (or lower this year's bonuses or freeze salaries) and then blow thousands on a swanky affair.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.