the top 10 holiday aggravations at work

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 okay. 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 Hanukah ornaments on a Christmas tree or inviting all staff to participate in a religious prayer are good ways to inadvertently offend some employees.

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.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 240 comments… read them below }

  1. Sasha*

    Forced card-signings. It kind of falls into the category of giving a gift to the boss. One of our admin assistants puts the pressure on everyone to sign a card for the VP of our dept. If you don’t sign it and cross your name off the list, she will email you or bring it to you personally.

    1. Lisa*

      OMG, I agree but with an extra point. We send cards to clients. We never send cards to our daily contacts only to the C-level people. C-level people never look at cards, but our daily contacts would and it is better to have a cube reminder in THEIR view than on some company wall where all the c-level cards go without ever being read by the recipient. Sending a separate card to the CEO’s assistant is always a good idea too. If they like you, you have amazing access to the decision maker. I’ve had an EA corner their CEO to address things I needed because of my relationship with her, and because of her relationship with him .. I was able to get a much needed answer.

    2. Kelly O*


      May I share card-related notes, because this JUST happened today? I am still picking my jaw up off the floor and y’all will appreciate this.

      One of my coworker’s mother-in-law passed away this morning. She’d had a protracted illness and for the last week it’s been a stressful, emotional rollercoaster for them. He was very close to her. So when we found out, I ducked out and picked up a card for whoever wanted to sign it. No list, no keeping up with who had or had not, just a card.

      So I get back with the card and I give it to the person who works the closest with the coworker and who has been working with him the longest. Someone complained to me because instead of giving it to her because she sits across from me, I took it to someone else. Because “why can’t we sign it first?” and then proceeded to act as though I had called her mother a hamster and suggested she smelled of elderberries.

      Floored me. Absolutely floored me. I’d never seen a card cause that heated a reaction.

      1. Mishsmom*

        well, Kelly O, how could you not know it’s about HER – the coworker – not about the poor guy who lost his mom, or his coworkers and you who want to show him support, it’s all about HER! what were you thinking?? (definitely a wtf moment – or if you were around in the early 90’s your coworker sounds like a “person unclear on the concept of…”) :)

        1. Jamie*

          Exactly. I’d be tempted to make her a get the hell over yourself card and make sure everyone signed it.

          If she’s worried about this she needs more to do.

          1. fposte*

            Or just a condolence card. “My condolences on your loss” and written in “of the first signature honors on the card.”

      2. jennie*

        I always prefer to sign a card last so I can be nosy and read what others wrote (and get ideas for what to write myself). But I don’t raise a stink about it!

      1. Cassie*

        Wait, that’s an option? But you have to wait until enough people have signed so it’s not obvious you didn’t.

    3. JT*

      Lisa, if you don’t want to sign it, why can’t you just say “I’d rather not” and don’t take it from her when she comes over?

    4. Anonymous_J*

      Keep in mind that SHE may be under pressure from someone else to do this. It may be that if she does not get everyone to sign, someone is going to make her life hell.

      I’m an admin. Uppers do that kind of stuff to us. It really sucks.

    1. Sasha*


      My department gets close to a few but doesn’t outright violate them. I am deeply thankful that our holiday party is a potluck during office hours, and in the office (and everyone gets to attend, even the receptionist). I don’t care for office parties but at least it’s not an 80s prom themed party on a Saturday night, which my friend is required to attend this holiday season.

        1. littlemoose*

          Yes please! There are already some good ones in this thread, and I’m sure our readers can share a few more gems.

      1. Jamie*

        We do a catered lunch during work hours where non-exempt are still clocked in. We have a policy where we can’t accept any vendor gifts, so we save them for the raffle (and supplemented so there’s enough for everyone) and names are pulled out of a hat and people get to choose. There is always something kind of big and fun saved for the last name picked – like a TV or something – but everyone walks away with something. Then everyone gets gift cards (same amount – all) and bonus checks are distributed.

        The stuff at the raffle is a mix of items of various value and my only Christmas pet peeve at work is when management take the higher end items. I always grab a box of candy or a coffee mug or something inexpensive as do most people in management, but every so often someone will grab the Bulls tickets or high value gift cards and I cringe a little bit.

        It’s the nature of a raffle, I know, and I hate when people talk on Survivor about who “deserves” what like wealthier people should give up their rights to win…so while it bothers me on Survivor I’d actually like to see people step aside a little bit in this case.

        I mean, a couple hundy on a gift card to Best Buy or whatever could make a much bigger difference in the Christmas for some than for others.

        I have gone totally soft and need to find that article I love where it explains how Scrooge was right all along – because he went all crazy and started forgiving accruals.

        1. Sasha*

          Y’all have TVS to give away at raffles???? Whaaaattt??? We’re lucky if our vendors give us keychains. Such is the life in (state) higher education.

          1. Jamie*

            Oh the vendor stuff is usually food (although higher end stuff like Frango Mints and various tins of Christmas cookies) and some tchotcky. The company supplements with the higher end electronics and stuff. I was told the whole purpose of a raffle is the element of chance that you could get something awesome or something okay.

            Or like our office supply place had a thing where if you bought X amount of toner you got a free set of luggage. Well, the office manager would have bought the toner from them anyway so making sure it was at the right time added some luggage to the raffle.

            I have a thing for penguins…not in weird way…put down the phone and don’t call PETA – but I love penguin themed stuff at the holidays. So if I can get a coffee cup with some peppermints inside that has ice skating penguins on it I am VERY happy that the purchasing department had to turn that in. Because my vendors are good for a box of Fanny May – if that. My vendors are key chain sending vendors. I want penguin sending vendors.

            But I digress…anyway, one year a vendor sent us this adorable penguin cookie jar. Nothing too fancy – from Sam’s Club – but too cute. So my boss notices I stashed it to the side and teased me about trying to hide it for myself. Actually, one of my co-workers who happens to be the nicest guy you’d ever meet, wanted it for his mom as she collects penguin stuff and was very ill with cancer – so I wasn’t even being shady for myself.

            Well, he got it and was so happy and his mom loved it…but the funniest thing happened…one just like it showed up on my desk the next day.

            The thing is I can afford a $14 cookie jar if I wanted one badly enough…but the thoughtfulness behind knowing I liked it but didn’t get it because I hid it for someone else…and then tracking one down to buy one for me too? I think of that kindness every time I bring it out.

            Which will be today when I get the house ready for tomorrow – yay! I am under orders to leave early today as “soon as I’m done” and under no circumstances am I to work past 2:00. Thing is I have no idea how to determine “done.”

            1. Blinx*

              Couldn’t they stop the “choosing” by holding up the item and THEN picking the name/number? That way it’s truly random.

              1. Jamie*

                They could – but this way most of us can bypass the higher end stuff by volition.

                I did just check when I got up to get some water…no penguins yet.

              1. Jamie*

                Well, that’s decided…

                Seriously, I’m just waiting on numbers from one person to explain one tiny discrepancy and I’m free.

                I think I’m going to take a walk back to that department and shake him down have a little pre-holiday chat. :)

            2. Malissa*

              Our receptionist score some great swag when ordering office supplies. She’s managed to get enough stuff so that no one walks out of the party empty handed.
              She’s like a free-item getting genius.

            3. KimmieSue*

              I love this story! I would cherish the jar as well. Not the jar, but the intention and appreciation behind it.

              1. Jamie*

                I’ve wanted one for years, I keep meaning to buy one on the after Christmas sales and never get there before the good stuff is gone.

                Maybe this is the year to splurge and buy it before the holiday.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          Not quite related to holidays, but I have a raffle-related peeve.

          My office occasionally has these optional sessions for employees – say a college fair, or a benefits overview – and they include a raffle as incentive to attend. I am slightly irked that people who have 2 hours to snooze in a benefits session get to win fabulous prizes while I am busy doing real work. I know I could go, but I’d still have to do the work sometime. It seems to always be the same group who wins (and therefore has lots of free time?), so I guess that’s why I’m bothered.

          1. Jamie*

            See this kind of thing, at my company, would go in the raffle pool. If you go somewhere you can keep the complimentary pen and crappy t-shirt – no one wants that anyway – but yeah, if you won an iPod or anything of value…it goes in the raffle pool as it falls under the category of vendor/customer gifts we can’t accept.

      2. Steve G*

        I think 80s music is in general a good way to go, as far as music goes. In fact I happened to go to a 70s/80s roller-“disco” party last week.

        However, not everyone has such great memories of the 80s that they want to celebrate them again. My aunt is only 47 and I always thought it was cool that she graduated high school in ’83 because she was young when all of the awesome new wave music was coming out. But she didn’t like new wave, she was always stuck in 60s/70s. So an 80s theme party for her would be really annoying, not a treat!

        1. Rana*

          I have to agree with your aunt (I’m 42). The 80s to me remind me of styles that looked terrible on 85% of the people, and being gawky and awkward to boot. The music is great, but pretty much everything else about the 80s was pretty annoying, if you lived through it.

          1. Laura L*

            ” being gawky and awkward to boot.”

            Yes! This is why I dislike most things from late 90s-early 2000s. It’s not about the clothing or the music itself, it’s about the things they remind me of!

        2. TychaBrahe*

          I graduated in 1984. For prom, my dad and I went to see Star Trek – The Wrath of Khan. That would totally be my excuse.

      3. Footloose*

        I donated my prom dress (from 1984) to a friend whose office did the same thing a few years ago. Unfortunately, he passed it on to a female co-worker instead of wearing it himself, which is TOTALLY what I would have done in his situation. :-) Actually, it looked like a kind of fun party in his Facebook photos. But srsly, WHY?

  2. Anonymous*

    How about the boss/employee or whomever that takes days off around the holiday, yet makes more phone calls/asks more questions/sends more emails on their days off then when they are actually physically in the office?

    1. Jamie*

      Do you mean you’re taking days off and getting called on your off-time or that other people are off and in greater communication.

      I don’t see why the latter would be a problem?

      1. fposte*

        I could see it as a problem if people who are also supposed to be off think they need to respond to it. But if I’m getting some work done and need something checked on Monday, I send the email right when I have the query in my mind–I’ll lose if it I hold it for days!

        1. KellyK*

          Yeah, same here. If I know that someone is out or crazy busy, I make a point to tell them it’s not urgent, but I generally figure that it’s not my job to keep track of other people’s vacations, and they can certainly ignore email if they want/need to.

    2. KellyK*

      I’m not sure how this hurts anyone, unless they’re:

      -non-exempt and working off the clock
      -sending useless emails to “look productive”
      -hassling people on their own vacations and expecting a quick response for things that aren’t urgent

      I mean, I’d be worried about their stress levels if they *never* took a real break, but catching up on emails on a day off isn’t inherently a bad thing.

    3. Anonymous*

      I read this at Anon. saying the boss was taking days off which would be a nice little breather from having the boss around but since the boss was actually more active on the days off, there was no nice little breather.

      I have very hands-off boss so whether she is there or not make no difference in my day, but if you have a boss who is super hands-on, I can see where having a break from that would be appreciated.

        1. Jamie*

          That’s kind of like when I come in on a Saturday to get caught up and someone else is here…so I end up fielding all kinds of IT questions just because they are treating it like a regular work day and I just want to do what I need to do and run.

          I get that, now.

    4. LK*

      Ugh my boss does this!! I know it’s reasonable that he’s in touch with the office on his day off, but I swear he sits at home all day and thinks of nitpicky things to call/text/email me about all day long. It’s markedly more communication than when he is working but not in his office.

    5. Spreadsheet Monkey*

      I actually read this partly as someone taking time off but still “working.” And at this time of year lots of people want time off but only a few can have it. I’d be really upset if I didn’t get days off to spend with my family or friends and the person who DID get the time off spends the entire time working anyway.

  3. A Bug!*

    I don’t understand “gift in lieu of bonus”. I’m glad my boss doesn’t, either. I usually get a couple small-value gift cards (to local coffee shops, ones I’m known to patronize) in my Christmas card along with my bonus.

    A few of the offices in my area take their staff on a holiday around this time, in lieu of bonuses. Usually wherever’s least expensive (Vegas is popular). Not send on a holiday, but take on a holiday. I can’t imagine a holiday less relaxing than spending several days in a row with my boss and coworkers, and I actually do like them! Plus, the unpaid time off work and a lack of a bonus comes at precisely the worst time of year for many people.

    1. Sasha*

      Yes, if my company can’t give out bonuses, then just tell me I’m doing a good job (if indeed I am) instead of a consolation prize. I operate on kind words and money.

    2. Jamie*

      I don’t understand “gift in lieu of bonus”.

      Some people do not understand the power of the bonus.

      And vacationing with co-workers? No thank you. I would absolutely quit first.

      1. Marie*

        Oh yeah, my company does this too! No 13th cheque, no bonus, but a fancy holiday together once a year. In fairness, I DID make one good contact at one of these events once (a good IP lawyer to refer people to), but – no.

  4. Yup*

    Great list! My addition: forced fun that interferes with work/productivity. For example, having a “wear an ugly sweater while singing a carol with lyrics you made up while playing a minute-to-win-it game” event on a busy Monday when everyone already has too much to do. (Especially when said event requires a meeting, 5 all-staff emails, and written instructions.) So instead of finishing my work in time to go home at a reasonable hour, I’m trapped in a dopey un-fun time suck while thinking about my growing to-do list.

    1. JT*

      I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I don’t understand why you have to go to that event. Just stay at your post/desk and keep working.

      I’ve had people at my organization (including once or twice my manager) say “We’re all meeting in X room for the big lunch” and I just say “Thanks, but I’m staying here” and stay at my desk. Or “Thanks but I’m heading out” and walk out to lunch. Just don’t go. If my manager tells me to go, I go. But if it’s a “fun” thing and she (or anyone) says “It’ll be nice, come over” and I don’t want to go, I don’t. It’s simple.

      I have good job security now, but did this even when I didn’t think I did (though the economy was good at that time, so if I lost my job it wouldn’t have been so bad).

      Don’t go to things that you do not want to go to and that do not help your organization’s mission.

      Just don’t go.

      PS – At least twice the founder/chair of my organization commented that she’d “Missed me at the holiday party.” I took her at her word – she’d missed me. Not that that’s a threat or warning of some kind.

      PPS – I did kind of chicken out of a Thanksgiving event recently – we had a big lunch and I wasn’t in the mood plus had a lot of stuff to do at home, so I took a day off as vacation which helped avoid the stream of people coming over to my desk asking why I wasn’t there. But the previous two or three years I was in the office but skipped the lunch. Just didn’t go.

      PPPS – I do go to events where it’s “work” – dinners or parties where my organization needs me to be there and be cheerful/network. That’s a totally different story than a staff party supposedly for us.

      1. JT*

        One other thing. I think my organization’s holiday parties are usually pretty good – most staff like them, they’re just after hours with free food and drink. People usually can bring guests. So they’re a nice scene. I’m just so stressed every December that I just want to go home after work. So it’s me, not them.

      2. Cassie*

        I do like you do – I don’t go to most things because I just plain don’t want to go. If my boss says “let’s go”, I go, but for staff stuff (he’s faculty, not staff), I don’t bother.

        Some of my closer coworkers ask why I don’t go. My answer is simple – “I don’t want to”. It’s simplistic and maybe I sound like a five year-old but in life, there are things we have to do and there are things we don’t have to do. If you don’t have to do it, then don’t!

        My friends who do go to these events (secretly begrudgingly) do so because a) they’re afraid of retribution and b) they can’t take the “why didn’t you go?” comments. They figure it’s easier to just go (and suffer in silence).

      3. Yup*

        I take your point JT, but in this case it’s my manager AND the president of the organization stopping by to say, “Hey, it’s time for the forced fun now. Make your way over to the conference room.” Hence the aggravation.

  5. Anonymous*

    You can also create another one out of 9 & 10 – with bonus points for cutting the one for the staff as well.

  6. moss*

    this year my company discarded seniority bonuses in favor of some mysterious merit-based system they still have not adequately explained. Morale has lowered.

  7. Amouse*

    My employer violates several of these, including charging for the party, making us say “Grace” before the meal, sending countless e-mail pressuring for donations to the charity drive and so forth.

    I’d like to add to this list: Hiring an acapela doo-wop band that sings mainly hip-hop hits and is usually touring around elementary and high school but will be singing through dinner at the Christmas party. I know music is subjective, but really?

    1. Blinx*

      The singing reminded me of a holiday party I went to when I worked for a small company. The entertainment consisted of the head of the company showing us HIS vacation slides to Yosemite at winter time, and then HE sang a song about a bear. The slides were beautiful, but just reinforced the difference between the haves and have nots. And it got old after the 2nd carousel.

      1. Amouse*

        He sang a song about a bear while he showed you slides of himself vacationing in Yosemite Park?? Was it the Yogi Bear Christmas theme song? LOL

        1. Blinx*

          This is the same company when the above boss retired, his son-in-law took over. That guy got the official holidays mixed up and INSISTED that New Year’s Day was a working day. We had gotten off New Year’s Eve some how for the previous year’s holiday count. Jan. 1 was supposed to count in the next year’s. Our part-time HR person blew her top when she found out, but it was too late. If you took off, you had to use a vacation day.

          1. Jamie*

            Wow – we get New Years Eve and New Years Day. Also Christmas Eve, the day after Thanksgiving, and Good Friday.

            I think I’m going to write a thank you note to my boss now.

            1. Anon2*

              Yes, you should. ;)

              We get New Year’s day and usually get Christmas Eve, but this year we got President’s Day (yes, you read that right) off instead of Christmas Eve.

              I am that annoying coworker who had their time off request in and approved the first week of January so I don’t have to come in to work the Monday before Christmas day. :/

              1. jennie*

                My husband’s company always shuts down at noon on Christmas eve and pays the full day, but if you take the day off you have to take a full vacation day, so he’d rather work a half day than use a vacation day. Makes the falling on a Monday this year pretty inconvenient though.

            1. Blinx*

              For some reason, it’s no longer in business!!

              And believe you me, while I love The Office (Am. & Brit. versions), for a while it was just too painfully accurate to be funny!

              1. Jessica*

                I felt the same way about Office Space, the movie. The first time I saw it, I was in a highly dysfunctional office, so the movie just wasn’t funny: it was excruciating. When I had been out of that office for a couple years and saw the movie again? It suddenly was funny! Imagine that. ;~)

  8. LK*

    The gifts-at-work thing KILLS me. Each year my office adopts a needy family from the community, so (supposedly) in lieu of exchanging gifts we contribute to the needy family. My first Christmas here, I came in on the last day before the holiday break to a pile of gifts on my desk. When I mentioned to a co-worker that I thought we decided on the charity instead of exchanging with each other, I was told that “it’s just a little something!” Except an extra 15 gifts on top of our donation is not a little something for me, who is buried under a mortgage and student loans (and is the only person in the office who is not part of a dual-income household).

    Also, in our office it’s expected that we give our bosses gifts (we’re all admin assistants with bosses who make 2x-3x what we do). My boss & I can’t stand each other, which takes all the fun out of the gift giving.

    1. A Bug!*

      That’s really gross. I wish people would be a little more aware of the fact that what’s “little” to them is not necessarily “little” to others.

    2. Anon2*

      So, do you donate to the charity of YOUR choice in your boss and coworkers’ names? Then you can donate as much or as little as you like and either give them card or have the charity send them a card saying a donation was made in their name.

      While I like to donate to charity anyway, if someone was so presumptuous at work as to expect me to give them a gift without some additional, close personal connection … then I would aim to do this. It would soothe my soul to give to a worthy charity at the same time I’m violating the spirit of their ridiculousness.

    3. Mike C.*

      The most passive-agressive gift I can think of is a donation to charity. I specifically like *Oxfam, because you can buy various farm animals for folks around the world.

      “Look Boss, I bought you a flock of geese for a needy village somewhere you’ve never heard of! Isn’t that swell?!?”

      It really pops the bubble of someone who’s expecting some material gift for personal gratification and they look like a complete jerk if they complain!

      Oh, and your gift actually helps folks who need it, so that’s pretty cool too. :)

      *But really, pick anyone you like. It helps if you find a group that would irritate your boss.

  9. Verde*

    I would add to this the major annoyance of staff bailing for the holidays without taking care of things like payroll, updating their calendars about their time off, and so on. They just split, and you’re left wondering what’s going on.

    Also, we do an annual staff party in January, to try and avoid the holiday insanity, and we don’t call it a holiday party. Just a simple chance for staff to hang out and socialize, for fun.

  10. Your Mileage May Vary*

    Having a haphazard way of picking who gets off what days. I’ve been in offices that let those people with kids have off extra days, letting certain religions get preference as to the days they are off (and not other religions/non-religious people), letting people who Must! Shop! on Black Friday get the day off, etc. Offices should have a set way of determining which people get off — like let them fill up the calendar by seniority or something.

    1. KellyK*

      Absolutely! Have a logical system, make sure people know what it is, and *tell them* what days they get in a timely fashion. I know people who’ve put in vacation requests months in advance and gotten nothing until the schedule (which goes up a couple days before it starts) came out. Not a “yes,” not a “no,” not a “we’ll let you know in X timeframe.” Nada.

      My company is very good about this, but the nature of my job is such that if I’m out, no one is “covering” for me, and holidays often just mean that there would be less for me to do if I were around.

    2. Blinx*

      I was so glad that my old company had 2 days off for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. And then after a merger, they picked up the other company’s tradition of office shut down between Christmas and New Year’s. You had to use vacation days for the 3 or 4 days, but I was happy as a clam. No more haggling over who would cover. I really hated working those days, only because it was SO boring. A real skeleton crew, most of the projects had to be finished before Christmas anyway.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I actually liked working between Christmas and New Year’s–the phone would be dead because all our clients were closed. I saved up year-end tasks that took me away from the front desk for that week. Things like packing up old files we had to keep, etc.

        1. Jamie*

          Me too. We’re shut down for vacations/holiday so it’s just me and the skeleton crew I can talk into working with me.

          Inventory analysis, end of year server/client maintenance, end of year close for the accounting end. I love the peace and I swear I get more done over shut down then any solid month the rest of the year…it’s amazing what being able to plow through a list free of interruptions will do for your productivity.

          1. A Bug!*

            Ditto. When I work over Christmas that means I get to play music at my desk and catch up on filing. Sometimes I’m literally on my own so I get to lock the door and go “By Appointment Only”. Honestly, it’s almost as good as staying home, except I get paid and I get a bunch of stuff out of the way that I don’t usually have time to take care of.

            1. Jamie*

              On those days I’m working in a sweatshirt and either track pants or flannel plaid pajama pants and fluffy socks with a ponytail.

              Something about changing it up and getting out of the uniform makes me feel so free – and kind of naughty.

            1. fposte*

              Oh, I know! And those tend to be the days where I feel I can take the time to finally clean the desk catastrophe, etc.

    3. Anonymous*

      I really don’t see a problem with letting people request these days off as long as they follow the proper protocol for requesting time off and have the time to take. I find awarding days off based on seniority to be much more unfair than it is to those on a first come first serve basis. The company my husband works at does it based on seniority and basically the people who worked there over 10 years have all of the time around the holidays off, while everyone else is completely screwed for every holiday. Same thing happens in the summer— he can’t even take time off in the summer because every week is taken by the time he gets to pick– he’s been there 3 years.

      1. Your Mileage May Vary*

        That implies there actually is a protocol. I’d take any protocol, not just seniority. But what usually happens is that Coworker A complains to Manager and gets the day off but Coworkers B’s complaints are ignored. It’s all random and morale goes in the tank.

        Have a protocol, people!

      2. LCL*

        We do our vacations by seniority, and I think it is fairer. But, for a seniority system to work for everyone there has to be written rules and limits and deadlines. I won’t bore you all again with the complicated details, just say that everyone is limited to the same number of choices. And we don’t allow late requests to bump other requests, no matter how much seniority.

    4. some1*

      Agreed! I worked somewhere where the boss let her friend get first choice of being off for holidays/around holidays. It really hurt morale.

  11. Adam V*

    The link to “two separate holiday parties” takes you to “8 Signs You Should Look for a New Job”, but I don’t see anything there about two classes of office parties. Am I looking at the wrong place?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I would have thought that we all had learned by now that A and B lists do not work. And the separate lists cause more harm than good. sigh….

        I knew of a company with A and B lists. It was possible for 2 people with the same job title to be on different lists. wth. sigh.

        1. NicoleW*

          Our company stopped having holiday parties 5 years ago, but there is an annual summer party. It has the A list and the no-list. A list people get invited, everyone else gets nothing. (I would never want to attend said party, but it’s still crappy.)

          1. Jamie*

            I totally read that as “slumber party” and made everything else we’ve talked about here not seem so bad.

            I should learn to read one of these days.

  12. Anonymous*

    When I first started my job in retail, no one mentioned giving anyone gifts. Then when the holidays rolled around, suddenly my bosses gave me cards with gift certificates in them (to restaurants or online shopping site) and my coworkers gave everyone either candy or tin of cookies. I didn’t know what to do so I immediately went out and made it look as if I was bringing in these things a little late (closer to Christmas instead of mid-December). So the second year I worked, I knew to bring in things, and while from one boss I still received a gift certificate to a store, my other boss actually purchased a gift for all of us.

    Fast forward to this year, I really don’t know what to do. Money’s a little tighter this year, and I know from my coworkers I will be probably be just getting more cookies and candy. My bosses will probably give me something a little more useful. However, being that we’re a small group, I don’t want to be the one who sticks out like a sore thumb. Any suggestions? Find something “cheap?” Make a batch of cookies at home?

    1. Blinx*

      Inexpensive candies tucked into little Christmas stockings or tins from the dollar store always worked for me. And I don’t think anyone would turn their nose up at home made Christmas cookies! Just do whatever you can do without trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” That’s how people get into financial trouble.

    2. A Bug!*

      This is pretty tough, and I’m sorry you’re feeling torn. I think some baked goods would be perfect if that’s something you’re able to swing.

      There are lots of cookies that are fairly low-hassle that come out looking quite impressive and don’t cost an arm and a leg. (I usually make a couple really inexpensive ones for filler, like rice krispie squares and chocolate wheat puff squares, and then one or two more “extravagant” cookies like gingerbread and shortbread.) A pack of dollar-store paper plates with a Christmas theme and a roll of tinted cellophane shouldn’t cost more than a couple dollars as well.

      If you have the time to go to the trouble to make iced cookies you can pipe names onto one cookie per plate to identify the recipient and give them a much more personal touch.

    3. Jamie*

      Back before I was working I had a couple of very tight Christmases and needed to do teacher gifts and money was verrrry hard to come by, but I couldn’t let the kids be the only ones without something. So I came up with this which was even cheaper than a batch of cookies for each teacher:

      Dollar store holiday mugs – I stuck to the winter scenes/snowflakes/snowmen so nothing was for a specific holiday or denominational.

      Inside the mug I put one packet of hot cocoa, one giant homemade cookie wrapped in holiday cookie wraps (50 per bag/ $1 per bag) tied in a ribbon, and a candy cane which the kids made into an ornament by gluing little googly eyes (.25 for packet from craft store) and twisting pipe cleaner around the top (again – not even .50) and made little reindeer candy-canes.

      It was cute, it was thoughtful because the kids helped, and most importantly to me it was cheap. I don’t even think it came out to $2 per person.

      And nothing makes me happier than a cup of hot cocoa and a cookie…so I would have liked it.

      And to all the teachers who are cringing right now because the last thing you ever need is another mug – I KNOW – but I was broke and desperate!

      1. Sasha*

        Yes! I like mugs and candy/cookies. A whole batch of cookies…too much. I can always reuse a mug, even for pencils or something.

      2. A Bug!*

        I’m sure teachers understand. I would feel terrible knowing that a gift I was given put the giver in a tough spot.

        1. Elizabeth*

          Aww, I get you wanting to make sure your kids felt included in gift giving. As a teacher, though, let me reassure you that you really don’t have to get me a gift. The ones I tend to value the most, frankly, are homemade cards where the kids drew a picture of something they like about my class!

      1. Jamie*

        Nothing fancy? Mixing your tea sounds like one of the fanciest things one can do.

        Then again – I just started drinking tea this week so I’m a novice. Before this is was something to be tolerated when sick as a poor coffee substitute. I’m just starting to appreciate it for it’s own value.

          1. Jamie*

            I’m in the baby steps phase. I have this week tried Sleepytime and a pot that was half lipton regular and half cinnamon apple. That was the one that made me a believer.

            I am all ears for suggestions on new teas to try, since I love the idea of something hot at night with no caffeine. I more fruity, less minty (the sleepytime is as minty as I can stand).

            I’m very excited – it’s like being an explorer discovering new stuff (and my palette is so basic that yes, sleepytime took me 40+ years to try). It’s also helped me cut down the ice chewing which I really want to do – my dentist and I are seeing way too much of each other.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Some people really like green teas — it’s a whole different taste. Personally, I like variations of black teas — darjeeling, earl grey, etc. — but those may be too hardcore for you right now. It sounds like you might like herbal or fruity teas, of which there are many!

              I finally converted my boyfriend to tea, and the key for him was honey. Do not be afraid to add copious honey.

              1. Anonymous_J*

                My FAVORITE green tea is gunpowder. For those who don’t know, it’s a very flavorful green tea–Chinese, I believe–that comes in little, tightly rolled balls. You just put them into your strainer or tea ball–or sometimes I put it right in my cup–and as it steeps, the leaves open up.

                Good stuff, but it tends to be very strong.

              2. nyxalinth*

                Just for the hell of it, I once tried Lapsang Suchong. It’s not for everyone (has a smoky taste) but I love it. I like trying unusual teas :)

            2. moss*

              my all-time favorite tea is Bengal Spice. It’s sort of sweet just by itself and perfectly spicy and somehow soothing. MMM. I need to get more.

            3. Sasha*

              For some delicious evening things try rooibos – it comes in a variety of blend and rooibos does not have caffeine. My current love is a rooibos chocolate peppermint. Little cream and some sugar and it’s as delicious as a cup of hot chocolate. Lots of tea makers have rooibos blends so there is a lot to try. I also like rooibos strawberry blend.

              1. Jamie*

                You guys are the best. I have all these loaded in my phone and I’m going to hit the grocery store on the way home to get the last minute things for tomorrow.

                Who am I kidding? These are the second to last minute things, because I’ve yet to get through one holiday without sending my husband out in search of an open store for something I’ve forgotten.

                1. Anonymous*

                  Note that black & green teas have caffeine. They may be delish, but if you’re looking for caffeine-free be sure to read your labels.
                  There are so many wonderful teas, you can spend a lot of time exploring types. Another nice brand is Yogi; nice quality, interesting flavors.
                  I really enjoy chai, which is a blend of black tea & spices; best made with steaming hot milk instead of water imnsho.

                2. Anonymous_J*

                  I’m a black tea person first and foremost, but if you like fruity, you’ve GOT to try black currant tea! It is DELISH!

                  I also tend to really like orange spice teas.

              2. perrik*

                Rooibos! Lovely stuff, very soothing when you’re feeling disgruntled (which, admittedly, is my natural state).

                If there’s a Trader Joe’s near you, check out their wealth of tea varieties. Their version of Earl Grey is my default tea, and there’s always a fun selection of herbal and regular teas to try – especially at this time of the year. I’m reading AAM while drinking their organic ginger-pear white tea. Lovely stuff.

                @Blinx – Also look for Lapsang souchong, a smoked black tea that is similar to the Russian tea. Powerful stuff – too smoky for me!

                Celestial Seasonings has great fruity herbal teas. Try any of their Zinger teas (Wild Berry is my favorite).

            4. Blinx*

              I picked up some loose tea at a farmer’s market once, and ever since then I look for it in specialty shops. I think it was called Russian tea. A black tea that smelled like smoke! It was like drinking a campfire. Sounds weird, but I really liked it.

              1. fposte*

                I was late to the smoky tea parade, but now I am quite the convert. The friend who turned me onto it travels with her stash and has made many a customs official start sniffing suspiciously as her luggage is opened.

            5. Nodumbunny*

              I’ve just “discovered” tea as an accompaniment to sticking to a salad or yogurt for lunch. I do really well keeping my lunch really light in the summer, then start craving carbs in the winter at least in part because I’m cold and want to have something hot to eat. Hey – tea with my salad. That works.

            6. Rana*

              If your grocery store sells it, you might try Stash brand – it is really good tea, if you decide you like green and black teas. Celestial Seasoning is quite good for herbals (though I usually end up having to put the bags in a ziploc because the wax-paper bag inside doesn’t work really well as is Tazo and Ministry of Tea.

              Regarding green tea: if you try one brand and don’t like it, don’t assume that you don’t like green tea. Some are grassier; some (like the Stash) are nuttier.

              You can also have milk and sugar with your green tea, but be prepared for tea snobs to scoff at you if you do.

                1. Lore*

                  Stash tea is awesome. They have some really delicious fruit-infused black teas as well as the herbals, and their lemon-ginger rocks as well. They also have a Darjeeling green tea that I swear has magic powers: it’s the only thing that can quell the coughing fits I tend to get in the last stage of a flu or chest cold.

            7. Ellie H.*

              I drink a ridiculous amount of Sleepytime tea. It’s my favorite and I drink many, many cups a day. I sometimes feel I am singlehandedly keeping the company in business. I’m not at all into “fancy” tea – I drink standard Twinings English Breakfast every morning and Earl Grey is about as “out there” as I get – but pretty much any kind of non-sweet mint or herbal tea is good in my book.

            8. Ariancita*

              I’m a major tea snob, and mixing teas sounds fun but not exactly as high quality (if you want to do it cheaply). When you graduate out of bagged tea, you might be delightfully surprised and welcoming of the complex and lyrical flavors of good tea, like Mariage Freres.

      2. COT*

        Yes–homemade tea/cocoa mixes are great. You can even dip a few plastic spoons in chocolate and sprinkles to use as stirrers.

        If you think everyone’s on treat overload, consider giving homemade frozen cookie dough. Include baking instructions so people can make them on their own after the holidays.

        Layered cookie or soup mixes in a jar are another inexpensive option that seems special and festive. Here are some ideas:

        1. A Bug!*

          Jars can actually get surprisingly expensive if you don’t have a bunch to spare (and a person who does home canning never truly has “spare” jars), but cellophane bags tied shut with curly ribbon can also do the trick. The right kind of bag can be tricky to track down but if you can, the per-unit cost is usually pretty low.

          That said, cookie mixes are a very good, frugal choice for the giver as compared to actual cookies because then you don’t have to pay for the eggs or butter! ;)

          1. Amouse*

            Most dollar stores sell jars and holiday themed bags for cheap. You have to get there early though, I find it I go in December all the good Christmas stuff is usually gone.

            1. A Bug!*

              That’s because people like me bought them all up with Big Christmas Plans, but run out of time and then five years later all those jars go off to the Sally Ann in a big box with all the other Big Plans.


              (Actually, that gives me an idea! Make a post in “looking for” on Craigslist or Freecycle or whatever local free classified your area uses, asking for jars! I bet there are a few Mes on your local mailing list!)

        2. Jamie*

          Between you. COT, and Amouse I am actually sad I have no one to make this kind of thing for, anymore.

          These ideas are really clever and the kind of thing I would never come up with on my own.

        3. Diane*

          One guy friend’s advice still resonates with me: “Don’t give me a jar with brownie mix–just give me the brownies!”

          1. Amouse*

            some people like to bake but you’re right, some would rather just get baking. The cool thing is though, this will stay fresh much longer than prepared brownies or cookies so it’s a little easier to prepare as a gift.

        4. COT*

          One friend gave out homemade Bloody Mary mix last year –obviously not appropriate for every setting, but a nice simple gift to give to lots of people.

          1. Amouse*

            ooh that reminded me! Candied nuts!! super simple to make and you can buy nuts in bulk and put them in pretty little bags with bows! That’s a cute gift to make for lots of people too

            1. Jamie*

              This gets a little more expendy – but people get so impressed by homemade turtles. It’s just pecans, caramel, and chocolate …but for some reason people think a lot of effort went into them. And trust me, if I can make them they aren’t complicated.

                1. Jamie*

                  Super easy:

                  On either parchment paper or a cookie sheet lightlycoated with butter (or spray) lay out either one pecan for the mini-bites or a cluster of three for the jumbo turtles.

                  Melt a bag of Brach’s caramels (plain caramels) over very low heat (some people use a double boiler but that’s too complex for me) with the teeniest bit of butter just to make it soft and easy to drip.

                  With a teaspoon drip the caramel over the pecans until covered – let harden in fridge for little bit till caramel is firm.

                  Melt choc chips (I like semi-sweet but I know some people like milk choc – I don’t know why) and with a little spoon cover caramel by letting it pour over it.

                  My mom put something called paraffin in the chocolate to make it glossy like the kind you buy in the store, but I’ve never bothered and don’t know how.

                  Any craft store has the little candy wrapper cups and boxes – so you can go as fancy as you like. The only thing that’s pricey is the pecans.

                  And now I’m hungry and there are cookies at the front desk which I’ve been avoiding for 6 hours now.

                2. Amouse*

                  Yeah, I think i”d probably end up eating a bunch of these as I’m making them but that could also be a lot of fun. It’s Christmas! (that would be my excuse to myself) :-)

              1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

                Oooh, along these lines is Candy Cane Brittle! Soooo easy, just crush up a bunch of candy canes, melt a bunch of white chocolate, mix, pour out over wax paper, allow to harden, and break up into chunks. I did this one year, it’s super tasty and super fast and pretty cheap!

                1. Anonymous*

                  Parrafin – as in candles and as in dealing layers in canned jams, etc. You want FOOD GRADE if you’re adding it to chocolates or other confections. Here ends your public service announcement.

      3. KarenT*

        Wait–you can mix teas? Please explain. I just got overwhelmed with excitement, and I consider myself quite a teophile.

        1. Rana*

          It works best with the herbals, but yes. :)

          Try peppermint and lemon, for example, or pear and green or white tea. Or cinnamon spice with orange.

        2. Ariancita*

          Absolutely. But you need to know your tea flavors, thus Rana’s advice about herbals. You would get nice quality loose leaf teas and then mix them together. But if you don’t know your flavors, then I wouldn’t do that (it’s sort of like cooking and mixing different spices together). For instance, there’s a huge range of flavors for green tea, depending on if it’s Chinese, Japanese, or Indian in origin and depending on harvest time (first flush, second, etc).

          However, you could buy a bunch of different nice quality loose leaf teas and cloth bags and create single flavor teas and give an assortment package (though this is not a cheap present!).

        3. Ariancita*

          Oh, I see you say you’re a teaphile. If it’s just for you, I would get some basics, some food quality dried flowers (made for mixing with teas/edibles, not from a florist), and some spices and experiment! Like mixing a nice earl gray with mint leaves (organic for best flavor). Or a roobios with clove.

    4. Natalie*

      I like to bake, so I usually default to baking if I need an inexpensive, impersonal gift. Last year I gave one of my relatives a homemade mix for some muffins they like, which went over pretty well.

      Sables (the classic French butter cookie) don’t use any fancy ingredients and are fairly easy to make:

      1 large egg, hardboiled
      1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
      1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
      1/4 teaspoon table salt
      1 teaspoon vanilla extract
      1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
      1 large egg white, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
      4 teaspoons sugar (preferably turbinado or coarse sanding sugar)

      1. Press yolk of hardboiled egg through fine mesh strainer into a small bowl.
      2. Beat butter, granulated sugar, salt, and cooked egg yolk on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl and beater with rubber spatula as needed. Turn mixer to low, add vanilla, and mix until incorporated. Stop mixer; add flour and mix on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds. Using rubber spatula, press dough into cohesive mass.
      3. Divide dough in half; roll each piece into log about 6 inches long and 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in 12-inch square of parchment paper and twist ends to seal and firmly compact dough into tight cylinder. Chill until firm, about 1 hour.
      4. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Using chef’s knife, slice dough into ¼-inch-thick rounds, rotating dough so that it won’t become misshapen from weight of knife. Place cookies 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Using pastry brush, gently brush cookies with egg white mixture and sprinkle evenly with turbinado sugar.
      5. Bake until centers of cookies are pale golden brown with edges slightly darker than centers, about 15 minutes, rotating baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking. Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes; using thin metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature. Store cooled cookies between sheets of parchment paper in airtight container for up to 1 week.

      Chocolate sables: Reduce flour to 1 1/3 cups and add 1/4 cut dutch processed cocoa.

      Almond sables: Replace vanilla extract with 1 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. Add 1/3 cup finely ground almonds with the flour. Decorate cookies with thinly sliced almonds.

      Lemon sables: Add 4 teaspoons lemon zest with the vanilla. Decorate sables with confectioners sugar instead of turbinado or sanding sugar.

      You can also make sandwiches with two sable cookies and some melted chocolate. They look really fancy if the two cookies are slightly offset.

  13. Blinx*

    “Extravagant office parties while the company is laying off staff.” *sigh* We had massive layoffs last year. After working my excruciating 60-day WARN period, my last day was the same day as the building holiday party in the cafeteria (for more than 1,000 people). They always did it up nicely, with lots of hot appetizers and yummy sweets. I trudged out at noon, carrying my last bag of personal stuff so I didn’t cry into my hot chocolate.

    1. some1*

      Ugh. On a similar note, my old employer used to throw us a pretty decent holiday party the Friday before Christmas, held at an outside venue. I enjoyed each year I worked there. We would get details about the party right after Thanksgiving.

      Lo and behold, last year it was two weeks before Christmas and no one had heard boo about the party. The company wasn’t the greatest on communicating info to us in a timely manner, so personally I chalked it up to that, but I did find it strange that nothing was mentioned…being holiday party season, venues get booked early.

      The next week, I was part of a round of layoffs (this company had you leave immediately when you were laid off). The day after we were let go, our former co-workers got the email about the holiday party that Friday.

      1. Blinx*

        Ooooh, that stinks too! Have you found another position? I’m still looking. As my “anniversary” date gets closer, I’m getting more and more depressed. Just in time for Christmas. And the fiscal cliff. Yuck.

        1. some1*

          That employer used layoffs to get rid of people they didn’t like. About a year before I left, my boss, who hired me, was let go and my new supervisor wanted to create her own team from scratch, so she either got people on her team transferred to other supervisors or started looking for problems with her employee’s work. I saw the writing on the wall, so I was already looking. I actually had an interview set up at my current employer before being let go, I didn’t get that position but I got a position they created in another dept 3 months later (in March). I’ve been pretty happy here.

      2. LMW*

        A few years ago, my friend and all her coworkers found out the company was shutting down the day after the Christmas party. They had about six months for everyone to find new jobs…in a really niche field that had just lost the largest employer in the area.

  14. some1*

    With regards to #3, do you agree for public sector employers? I worked in a city dept and if the dept had paid for any type of party, it would be taxpayer-funded which at worst can be illegal/misuse of funds to at best seen as a waste to the public. So the holiday and retirement parties either had an admission fee or they didn’t happen, so where I worked those parties were paid by employees (obviously for retirement parties, the honoree did not have to pay).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I would say in that case to do a potluck during work hours if people wanted it, but not to do some fancy thing at an outside venue with a band and which people need to pay to buy tickets to.

      1. some1*

        Sorry, I mis-communicated. Every year I went it was in the banquet room at a bar with appetizers and a cash bar (I think maybe one or two drink tickets). No band :)

      2. doreen*

        I’m n the public sector as well, and our parties always require tickets- however, “management” is not involved in any of it. Individual managers may be on the planning committee or serve as ticket contacts, but the planning, etc is done by whatever group of employees decides they want to have a party. ( and oddly enough, it’s generally the lowest-paid employees who want to have the party)

  15. Elizabeth West*

    I thought of one–this may just be a personal pet peeve rather than egregious “OMG start applying nowww” behavior.

    Making employees stay until the very last second of the day before the holiday, when the phones haven’t rung for three hours and everyone is completely caught up. If we WANT to go home, let us go!

    1. Blinx*

      That IS annoying. We frequently got to leave at 2 or 3 before a holiday, but we could never plan on it. Always had to wait until someone in charge (since many managers were MIA before holidays) would give the official OK.

      1. AmyNYC*

        The “Surprise! We’re closing early!” thing makes me NUTS. It seems silly to complain about, I just found out we’re closing 3 hours early, and if I had known early I would have made different travel arrangements and not make my sister pick me up from the train station at 1 am.

    2. Jamie*

      Yeah – that’s when you send people on there way and tell them to skedaddle.

      The morale boost of being shooed home cannot be overstated.

    3. Esra*

      Our managers will leave early themselves, but expect everyone else to work out the day till 5pm. Total morale killer.

      1. A Bug!*

        That’s pretty terrible. I had a boss like that once. My current boss will often take off early for holidays but he’ll let me decide for myself whether I want to stay and keep the office open. I really appreciate being given the option to stay because sometimes I need the hours.

        1. Jamie*

          That is nice to have the option. When we close early we pay the non-exempt people to their usual time. So if you’re shooed out the door at 1:00 you’re still paid till 5:00.

          Otherwise it’s not much of a holiday treat.

          1. Jessica*

            Oh, I wish mine were like that! Offices close at 1:00 on the day before Thanksgiving (the building closes and the alarm is set, so we have to get out), but we don’t get paid for it.

        2. Esra*

          Having an option would definitely be nice. Just having them say “Good job, head out if you like” would boost morale even if you still have to stay to finish something up.

    4. Kelly O*

      I am SO with you on this one.

      We wind up having to stay the entire day, every blessed time. We’re retail operations, a corporate office, and our phones are so quiet right now, because they’re all getting geared up for Friday. And on Friday they’ll be so busy with customers there won’t be anything either.

      So I’m playing catch up on a couple of things right now, and since I have to work half a day on Friday, we’ll put up our tree that day. We have to work Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve too, and it’s the same thing. We are deadly quiet and the day drags on forever.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Urgh. At my old job, Christmas eve was a half day (but the shops closed early too, so presumeably assembling your Christmas dinner would take some planning).

        New Year’s eve wasn’t a half day, but again, the shops closed early and the banks were shut plus our clients were having a half day themselves. My abiding memory is of some very bored colleagues swigging champagne! (And even Champagne can be dull, when all you want to is go home!)

  16. Hello Vino*

    One thing to add: Company parties where you can only bring a guest if that guest is your spouse. I once worked at a place where fiancés and boyfriends/girlfriends were not allowed to come along to the holiday party. The party started at 3pm on a Wednesday, and if you didn’t attend, you had to use PTO.

    1. some1*

      Everywhere I have worked has the party in the afternoon during work hours, & no guests. As someone who is not married or in a relationship, I prefer this policy. Though I do think it’s unfair to not include partner or fiances.

      1. Kelly O*

        We had our Thanksgiving lunch today and one person brought his wife and infant son. Our Christmas thing is kind of awkward because some people bring their families, others live too far away and can’t, and one person invited someone from another company in our office to eat.

        (Well, and then there’s me, whose husband got fired from this company, so it’s not like I’m going to be okay bringing him to gather ’round the table.)

      2. TychaBrahe*

        I work in a small office, so this isn’t doable everywhere, but our office party is a Thursday evening, at our boss’s lavish condo, with a reasonable number of guests. I’m single, so I’m bringing my mother, her boyfriend, and my sister.

    1. A Bug!*

      Well, it was going to be a gift card to a place you never shop at, so instead of letting it go to waste I spent it for you. Merry Christmas!

  17. Not So NewReader*

    Am relieved to see a couple ideas here of things that do actually work.

    Here is a couple more for the list- Suppose you and your employee work together all day on Christmas. At the end of the shift when the employee wishes you a good holiday- don’t just laugh and walk away. A simple “thanks for working today” is better than nothing.

    Do not force your employees to sing Christmas songs to the customers. If they don’t want to sing, don’t make them. Some people did not have the type of childhood where they could learn all the words to “Rudolph”. Don’t make them explain why, you really don’t want to know.

    1. Jamie*

      Holy crap, that’s terrifying. And that really sucks for you. Honestly, a thank you costs nothing – why are some people so stingy with them?

      A vendor singing to me? I wouldn’t even know how to respond. And don’t tell my office manager, but I’m the one who keeps taking the batteries out of the little snowman that sings “Frosty” when you tap it’s head. Every. Single. Time. And apparently this doesn’t get old for some people…yet it puts me in a near homicidal trance.

      I do know all the words to “Oh Driedle.” Does hallmark make a stuffed animal that sings that?

      1. Sasha*

        “why are some people so stingy with them?” – Pride.

        I’m so, Not So New. That’s awful. I would be so tempted to quit on the spot.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Sometimes those stingy people are actually very angry people. It is odd how anger manifests, eh?

          In the Rudolph song situation, I learned more about a coworker in a few minutes than that coworker could have described to me in an hour. I was almost crying FOR my coworker. The higher ups were totally obvious to the situation.
          It did not feel like Christmas. At all.

    2. Rana*

      I think “don’t make your employees sing” should be a general rule, period. Ditto “don’t make your employees perform in public.”

      I still resent the one holiday party one employer held where one of the activities was a group reading of a holiday poem. (You’d read a couple of lines then pass it to the next person.) It would have been merely annoying if it were just a holiday poem, but it was a “humorous” poem that included a number of digs at things I personally consider important to me (I think the theme was something awful like “how PC spoiled Christmas” – imagine a vegan animal rights activist having to listen to mean-spirited jokes about PETA and the reindeer and you get the idea).

      So I was confronting the possibility of having to read “jokes” about things I care about while all my co-workers laughed. Luckily it was all read by the time it got to our table, but having to listen to people yucking it up was bad enough.

  18. Malissa*

    I realize as I read this I’m at both ends of the spectrum. At my work we have a totally optional potluck with a white elephant gift exchange during work hours. We bring in a person to answer phones during that time so no one has to miss. While it’s all employee funded–we’re government–it’s still a great party.
    My husband’s employer has one of those not-so-optional parties after work on a Friday. The evening kicks off with stupid interactive games. I have long hair and last year they put stickers on our backs for some stupid game. I spent the next 20 minutes getting the sticker out of my hair.
    There’s a prayer before dinner. A slide show featuring all of the company’s operations. A brag from upper management about their frequent flier miles. And at least one of the women in attendance shows up dresses like a hooker. Last year it was the new boss’s wife.

    1. moss*

      White Elephants can be so much fun. I still go to the one at my previous employer 3 years after being laid off from there. it’s a potluck and always hilarious. People bring back the worst gifts from previous years.

      However, everyone has to know it’s a White Elephant in advance, I’m looking at you Michael Scott from The Office.

      1. Lore*

        When my department was smaller, we used to do a Yankee swap, but no one was allowed to unwrap anything until everyone had their final selection. Which was kind of perfect, because it meant the actual content of the gift (maximum cost $15) was completely irrelevant compared to the packaging. The year I found Scooby Doo wrapping paper, I had the most “stolen” gift–by the time we got around to opening, no one cared that it was a goofy picture frame. The best ever though: my coworker showed up with an enormous box that jingled. It had an iTunes gift card wrapped in layers upon layers of bubble wrap studded with jingle bells.

  19. Ms Enthusiasm*

    Well for the first time in the 6 years I’ve been with my company they are NOT having a holiday party. It was always a very nice, catered affair in our large cafe but not this year. There used to be a huge raffle too with big screen TV’s, Kindles, Coach purses (I won one last year!) and tons of other stuff. The rumor is they aren’t even going to make an announcement – just suddenly no party. Hopefully this doesn’t mean the lay off’s are coming.

    On another note, one thing I hate about the holidays that isn’t on Alison’s list is just that nothing gets done. So many people save up their PTO for the end of the year that it is a ghost town from Thanksgiving week until after New Years. If you are working on a project and things are still pending mid-November might as well not expect anything else to get done until January.

  20. JLL*

    Let’s all pour out a little cheap wine for Secret Santa.

    I absolutely hate it- One, I don’t celebrate Christmas. Two, I do a lot of contract work, so the chances of my getting something said person actually wants when I’ve only known them for such a short period of time is fairly low. Three, upon declining, it generally spreads around that somebody declined, and will either lead to questions I really don’t feel like answering, or folks feeling like you’re not a “team player.”

    HATE IT.

  21. De Minimis*

    This is my first holiday season at my current workplace, and one major thing I’ve noticed is that there is a real assumption that everyone is Christian–I’ve attended two holiday related events now, and both were preceded by very long, very fundamentalist-themed prayers. Now personally I’m not offended [it’s the Bible belt] but I know I would certainly feel very uncomfortable if I were of a different faith or did not have any religious beliefs one way or the other. I’ve been in this situation before and they usually had somewhat “generic” type prayers that were more inclusive, but this place is different.

    If it were a private company it would be one thing, but we are a Federal agency, although we are also on tribal land, so a lot of the rules may not necessarily apply the way they would elsewhere. I’m guessing if anyone is offended they are keeping quiet about it.

    1. JLL*

      Yeah…my old boss was Jewish and kept kosher, so every Christmas party, he would never eat the food, and just get smashed on alcohol :-D And there were quite a few Muslim colleagues in the same company who didn’t even get alcohol for their trouble; they were just stuck with a bunch of food they couldn’t eat and drinks they couldn’t drink.

    2. Rana*

      It’s not so bad if you’re only expected to sit there while someone else prays, but if they expect you to pray with them… awkward.

      1. Liz T*

        This happened at my first (theater) internship out of college. Everyone knew I was Jewish, and probably guessed I was pretty secular, but I still got pulled into the occasional Jesus-based prayer circle. Saving grace: they happened often enough, and usually just when folks were supposed to be off the clock, that even the religious folks got annoyed by them. I still feel bad for that pastor who was called in to lead yet ANOTHER prayer, sitting by herself in the green room, waiting for someone to show up.

  22. Erika*

    I used to work in the accounting department of a small (but extremely successful) construction company. The owner of the company had us handle most of his personal finances (paying credit cards, etc) through the corporate accounts (I’m still not sure how legal all this was, but I was at the bottom rung, and with as abusive as that place was, I wasn’t going to say anything for fear of being fired).

    At Christmas 2008, just when the economy began to tank, he spent nearly $10,000 on Christmas decorations and a party at his house (no, none of were invited). We all got a pay cut.

  23. The Other Dawn*

    It really annoys me when the same people block off the day after Thanksgiving, and Christmas week every year, leaving no chance for anyone else to take that time off. Although, I suppose we could find fault with the manager who always approves that person’s time off.

  24. LCL*

    Most irritating? The last minute request for time off to attend a private party for a relative. These requests are always prefaced by an explanation of how important this relative is in their life. Which you know is BS, because if you were that important to each other, you would have been consulted about your work schedule when the party date was set.
    Even more than most irritating? The last minute request for time off with grandchildren, when the children are so young the adults decide the child’s schedule, and said grandchildren live close to the requester.

    Don’t hate on me, I grant these dates if we can cover, but the requests are driving me to drink!

  25. Kelly O*

    We had our Thanksgiving lunch today, and I have a new aggravation to add to the list that I have seriously never encountered in all my nearly 35 years of life. Again, still sort of picking my jaw up off the floor.

    Our company ordered in lunch – turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, broccoli casserole, cranberry sauce and rolls. People brought in desserts. Someone made Paula Deen’s Pumpkin Butter Cake (which, if you need a good dessert, make this. Just put a disclaimer about the butter/sugar content because it must be through the roof.) I had a little sliver of the pumpkin cake, and thought I would go back later this afternoon to get another taste, because it’s just that good.

    A coworker TOOK THE WHOLE DANG THING y’all. As soon as people got through eating, she took the ENTIRE cake. She said “well, I asked Jane if it was okay” and then proceeded to take it and the ENTIRE box of leftover rolls back to her desk, stuff them in a bag, and act all put out when someone said “you know, I wanted a little of that.” Several of us took the opportunity to grab a piece, and she acted as though we were asking for vital organs.

    I mean, seriously y’all. I am no Emily Post, but normally after potlucks, people wander in and out of the break room to get another piece of pie, or grab a roll… I have never, ever seen someone swoop in as soon as the table’s clear and take an ENTIRE container of something like that.

    Now, I have seen people fix a plate, or at the end of the day say “hey, can I grab some of that awesome cake?” but never just grab it like it was the last dish in the entire world and she was going to die without it.

    Floored. Just…floored.

    1. Jamie*

      One – I second the cake thing because it is RIDICULOUSLY good. I don’t even love pumpkin stuff but that is eye roll back in your head good.

      And that is one of the rudest things I’ve ever heard of – what she did. When we have stuff like this we put the food in the fridge for people to help themselves later and at the end of the day people can take home what’s left.

      I have never heard of a Thanksgiving lunch – I find it odd that they had the traditional T-Day food. I mean, you’re all going to be eating a variation of that tomorrow…and if you’re anything like me the leftovers for the next several days. If I were catering that I’d have gone with pizza or something as to not ruin your appetites for turkey.

      1. Blinx*

        Aw, man, I really miss Thanksgiving lunches. I’ve worked at several places that had AWESOME cafeterias. Usually the Friday before a holiday they’d have turkey and all the trimmings for their everyday entree price. And it great!! Sometimes I’d get one to go and take it home for dinner.

    2. A Bug!*

      I bet when that lady was a kid she thought “dibs” was universally applicable and “finders keepers” legally binding. Hey, lady! My niece’s preschool just called, they noticed you stole her attitude, but they said you can keep it because it sucks and they’d rather not have it back.

    3. fposte*

      I’ve heard about people who use potlucks and buffets to stock their own kitchens but never seen it. Ugh. I don’t suppose this is the co-worker who also wanted to be the first signature on the condolence card?

      1. Kelly O*

        Why yes, as a matter of fact it was.

        She also complained loudly all afternoon about not being allowed to leave at four and get paid through the rest of the day. We sit directly outside the CEO’s office.

        I would be embarrassed for her, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

        1. Blinx*

          Sounds like the lady I knew that would crash small departmental gatherings. She could sniff out a cake from miles away, and was always guaranteed to show up and take stuff back to her desk.

          It’s fine to go scavenging for cake, but the rule is it HAS to be put out as leftovers in the kitchen, after the party’s over. And you can only take it home if it’s actually time to go home. No squirreling it away at 1:30!

      2. Anonymous_J*

        Back when I was living alone, on a temp salary, I absolutely did this; however, there is a right way to do it and a wrong way. The right way to do it is to wait until the end of the day, when everyone who could possibly want any of the food has taken their share and it’s the “last call” before the housekeeping crew just trashes everything.

        The way this lady did it was so gauche I can’t even wrap my mind around it! I’m also guessing she’s not too badly off.

    4. Amouse*

      WOW. I’m floored just reading the story. I can’t imagine actually being there to see her do that!

    5. some1*

      This happened at my old employer once. Employees paid to have lunch catered by the best Italian place in town. An employee who declined to participate took the leftovers home, and had leftovers from those leftovers to bring in lunch for the next day.

    6. Rana*

      Wow. Just… wow.

      Not only being so selfish as to take the whole thing, but to get upset by other people being surprised at it? Yeesh, lady, get over yourself!

    7. Not So NewReader*

      I am picturing a message on her voice mail when she gets home. “Ms Cake Thief, this is the doctor’s office calling, your blood sugar test results are in and you need to come into the office to pick up your NEW 900 calorie diet and your medications… You need to start immediately.”

    8. The gold digger*

      We had friends who have a big Thanksgiving. Usually, they will send leftovers home with people, but it’s up to them: the host gets to decide.

      One year, a couple showed up with Tupperware. As they were going through the buffet to eat – first pass, they were also filling their Tupperware. Our friends were so flabbergasted that they didn’t know what to say.

      They did know, however, not to invite that couple again.

      1. Rana*

        Wow, how astonishingly rude. My husband’s family tend to behave like locusts when the meal’s over – if it’s not fastened down, they’ll take it home – but even they know to wait until after everyone’s had dessert!

    9. Melissa*

      We have a co-worker that does this after EVERY party – takes the best of the leftover food home. Whole bottles of juice/soda, buckets of chicken, pies, bowls of veggies, etc. And all she ever brings is 2-3 bottles of soda. Drives us all nuts, but she’s protected so we can’t do anything. :(

  26. ECH*

    Our employee handbook says that if we don’t work the day before the holiday and the day after the holiday, we don’t get paid for the holiday.

  27. Diane*

    I work for a public college that has a mid-day holiday “social.” Last year a choir of volunteers cheerfully serenaded us with religious Christmas caroles. It was painful (both the inappropriateness of the songs for public employees of mixed or no religions, and the noise itself). I don’t want to go this year, but my absence has been noted in the past when I worked through it to meet deadlines.

  28. Chocolate Teapot*

    A lot of my colleagues travel during the Christmas period (going to home country to see family) so trying to negotiatiate that I get home too can sometimes be tricky.

    I remember the part time assistant who always managed to dash out of the door. (Sorry I have to go early today! Erm yes, but so do I). I ended up dashing around trying to finish something urgent before I could finally leave!

  29. Anonymous_J*

    My group at work goes out for what SHOULD be a very nice holiday lunch every year. I never go. Why? The vegetarian option is a JOKE. Steamed vegetables with Hollandaise sauce. Really? Yes, really. For $25/person (what it costs the company, not what we pay. We don’t pay for our party. At least they got THAT part right!) they could to a hell of a lot better! …Not to mention the fact that Hollandaise sauce is not vegan, and I’m a vegan. They are not open to feedback or to exploring other locations as possibilities.

    I usually either stay in the office and work or take the afternoon off that day.

  30. D*

    I perused these comments, and didn’t find the ‘co-worker listening to Christmas music in November’ one.
    I had a coworker at a former job that not only brought out her massive collection of Christmas themed sweater vests around November 1st, she also had a small stereo that she rotated out Christmas CDs on.
    Around November 15th, one of my co-workers (there were two groups in the office space, my group and her group, consisting of around seven to ten people each) finally stood up to her and said that it wasn’t December yet, and we didn’t need to hear that music for two months instead of one.
    My boss at the time backed him up. She stopped the music until December 1st, but by then, we had all gotten headphones (mostly data entry department, not a lot of calls) to block it out.

  31. BW*

    Last year was an awkward mix of #3 and #10. We were charged to go to the holiday party, which was held late. Then about 2 weeks later there were massive layoffs. :-/

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