how to ruin employee morale during the holidays

If workplaces all around the country this month, loads of holiday initiatives meant to boost employee morale are unfolding: holiday parties, gift exchanges, cubicle and cookie decorating contests, charitable collections, and other events to mark the season. Ironically, though, the very events designed to make workers feel warm and fuzzy can leave an awful lot of people feeling aggravated and demoralized.

Here are seven ways some employers ruin morale during the holidays. Take a look and see if you recognize your own workplace in any of these.

1. Holiday event overload. Employees tend to have especially busy lives this month, with lots of other holiday-related commitments. A single office holiday party is usually appreciated (although not always; more on that in a minute), but some offices go overboard with holiday events: a daytime potluck, an evening party, a cookie decorating gathering, a Christmas sweater contest, and a separate gift exchange. While some employees might love all these festivities, others are going to feel overextended and annoyed at the intrusions into an already very busy month. Pick one holiday event, do it well, and then free your employees from the burden of additional obligations. Or, if you must do more, make it clear everything is truly opt-in only.

2. Being insensitive to differences of faith (or non-faith). Assuming that everyone celebrates a particular holiday will quickly make some of your employees feel isolated or uncomfortable. It’s fine to have holiday decorations up, but keep them reasonably secular: Don’t put out a nativity scene in your reception area, sing hymns at your holiday party, or invite staff to participate in a religious prayer. And watch out for inclusivity efforts that go awry, like putting Hanukkah ornaments on a Christmas tree.

3. Pressuring people to participate in pricy gift exchanges. At a time of year when many people’s budgets are already stretched thin, it’s not thoughtful to put more spending obligations on people. If your office does a gift exchange, keep it optional (truly; no side eye for people who don’t participate) and limited to a low dollar amount.

4. Allowing pricy gifts for the boss. Gifts in the workplace should flow downward, not upward; this means that gifts from managers to employees are fine, but employees should not be expected to give gifts to those above them. Yet many offices take up collections to buy gifts for the boss – sometimes pricy gifts that are more extravagant than what employees will buy for their families. Smart offices will ban the practice altogether, because many people understandably resent being asked to fund a gift for the person who signs their paychecks (and who may make significantly more money than they do), yet will feel uncomfortable opting out if everyone else is participating.

5. Requiring attendance at the company holiday party. Workplace holidays parties are ostensibly intended to treat employees and build morale; they won’t do that if you make attendance mandatory. Some employees, particularly the more introverted on your staff, may see the holiday party as something to be dreaded, and others might simply prefer to spend the evening with their families or friends instead of having another social obligation this month. If that’s the case, make it okay for them to opt out – and don’t penalize people, even unofficially, for not attending.

6. Making it impossible for some people to attend the holiday party. While not everyone will want to attend the company party, anyone who does want to should be able to. That means that companies need to make arrangements to have their phones covered so the receptionist can attend the party, and not ask some people to work at the party as coat checkers or caterers. Inviting people to a party where they have to work or where their jobs mean they can’t actually attend is not going to build morale.

7. Giving gifts en masse without thought about what truly works for everyone. Some companies give everyone a ham or a bottle of wine – which sounds generous until you think about vegetarians, Muslims, kosher Jews, or recovering alcoholics. And sure, it’s true that gift recipients shouldn’t be choosy, but in a workplace settings, these sorts of gifts from an employer signal “we don’t realize our staff is a group of diverse people.” When you need a gift that will work for a large group of employees, bonuses or extra time off will never fail to make people happy.

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

{ 296 comments… read them below }

  1. Kyrielle*

    Cheap gifts. The year everyone got $25 Amazon gift cards we were thrilled. The year we all got a fancy-looking (but cheap and poor performing, no less) pen branded with the company name?

    Ahahahaha. Let me guess, marketing wasn’t having much luck handing these out either….

    1. F.*

      I second that! At Very Large Dysfunctional Financial Services Company, we would get $5 cafeteria chips. The average lunch cost more than $5, and that was a few years ago. How cheap can you get?!

    2. Lionness*

      We do random little gifts. Some $20-$30 value gift cards, some fun desk calendar, some small techy items. People seem to like the randomness of it all but we are very careful to steer clear of items that might offend or upset (alcohol, etc)

      1. Kyrielle*

        Like I said, the year we got $25 Amazon gift cards we were thrilled. I wasn’t being sarcastic. But a broken company-name pen? Getting nothing would be an improvement.

        Perhaps instead of “cheap” gifts, I should have said “crappy” gifts, but I literally meant things whose quality is cheap, things that are just…bleh.

        I felt less valued for that gift than if they just hadn’t bothered. Again, the gift card? Awesome. (Probably also about $24 more expensive than the pen, for the company, if I had to guess.)

    3. Going Anon*

      How about no gifts? At my last company, they eliminated the Christmas bonus ($75 to Macy’s), but still held a bowling party for the whole office. The next year, no party and bonus. When my department head ordered pizza & soda for our department close to the end of the year as a thanks, she was told that wasn’t good for morale, since the CEO didn’t want people “laughing in the lunchroom” for a “party.” You can tell why this is my FORMER job.

      1. AW*

        Man, I’d love to see the logic that led to someone saying, “The CEO doesn’t like it, therefore it’s bad for morale.” That flow chart probably looks like an MC Esher painting.

    4. squids*

      I’m in the public sector, so no business-paid gifts. Each year the department head gives out a token gift for everyone — one year it was soup mix. We pretty much all appreciate it, because there’s no expectation of anything fancy.

      1. Kyrielle*

        That would be awesome. (Even granted that I probably couldn’t eat it, because of my issues, so what? It would still clearly be an awesome gift.)

        But a cheap company-logo pen that doesn’t write? That says “we don’t value you at all” to me…I’d *rather* get nothing than get that. (Then again, this was under the same management that used one of those ‘gift’ companies that gave out things you otherwise try to sell mail-order to gullible teens, as the rewards handling for employee recognition. Nothing says ‘you saved that major project’ like a choice of six pieces of costume jewelry you hate, a spell check device that can’t integrate to anything, or a dip-reheating crockpot…. I *greatly* valued the thank-you notes I got from the managers who nominated me. Which is good, because the ‘reward’ wasn’t.)

        1. Hlyssande*

          We get a gift company thing at milestones (5/10/15/20 years), but there’s a really wide variety to choose from. Some of it is terrible jewelry, fancy clocks, etc, but I was able to get a great gift card to Zappos instead.

          One year my boss gave us gift cards to the company-branded product store. That was the worst. Now we get taken out for a very nice lunch and call it good.

    5. Not Gloria*

      Every other time we get something cheap I’m of the opinion to not give me cheap crap. But at the holidays the non-exempt employees get a $25 check. Which is better than a poke in the eye. We used to get a Visa gift card, but there’s problems with those and costs, so now they just mail a check, which I’m more than happy with. I never got anything at old company.

      1. Kyrielle*

        *nodnods* A gift card or gift check, even if small, is better than nothing. But yeah, cheap crap, no.

    6. quiteone*

      I’ve posted this before – but one year we got given forks – for the lunchroom since we had lost a bunch during the year. Fork you very much??

    7. Anxa*

      I guess this isn’t a great example, but if I’m not going to get cash or a free sick day or something useful, I wouldn’t mind office supplies. But not a monogrammed pen or anything.

      If there’s just a few dollars to spend, I’d rather get something like new supplies in the break room, boxes of tissues in the building, or some other little splurge that’s been cut.

    8. Charlotte Lucas*

      Anything branded with the company name/logo is not a true gift. Unless it’s a car or a private jet. I mean, those can be repainted…

      1. A Non*

        Did we ever get an update on that story? Of all the nutty things that this site has covered, I still think that’s my favorite.

          1. Felicia*

            yup, she updated saying Hanukkah balls are back, but not whether it says Savannah’s second Christmas now

      2. Observer*

        Nevertheless, someone seriously suggested something of that nature in another thread about being inclusive. I did point out that a lot of people would see the suggestion positively.

    1. Chocolate lover*

      Our office manager recently put up some Christmas decorations on her desk in the lobby. The concession to Hannukah was a gift bag purchased at the local store, just to have *something.* (meanwhile, she was hammering garland to the desk and I thought construction was going on.)

      1. Xarcady*

        My office relies largely on poinsettias. The reception area is banked with them. There is a small tree in one corner and a menorah that is about half the size of the tree next to it. But both are half-hidden behind the poinsettias. Getting from the front door, past the reception desk and through the next door tends to involve knocking over at least one poinsettia. They are pretty, and having growing, live plants does make the office seem nicer, but there are just so many of them! and they are so big! and they are all over Reception!

        I don’t know if anyone feels left out of the holiday season. But I do know we are all united in our love/hate relationship with the poinsettias.

        1. JTD*

          Well, they *are* poisonous. In my office (which is awesome), we’d all be joking about senior management trying to bump us off and quite a few in that role would go “our cunning plan is foiled!”

        2. Smway*

          “I don’t know if anyone feels left out of the holiday season.”

          What I think a lot of folks fail to recognize is that there are many reasons that others can feel “left out” from the “holiday season”. While there seems to be some limited understanding of differing religious traditions, in my experience there is even less consideration of other factors that can make coworkers feel “left out” during this time of year.
          For example, my workplace just held a holiday luncheon where our boss went around the room and asked everyone to share their “holiday plans”. People went around sharing their travel, gift giving, and family plans. Which I don’t begrudge at all, but that type of conversation is not only uncomfortable for those who aren’t celebrating this unnamed holiday for religious reasons, it can be uncomfortable for those who will not be having a happy holiday due to finances, family issues, health problems etc.

          For many people, this is actually a very difficult time of year that they just have to grin and bear. At work, its even more difficult, because you don’t want to be a bad sport, but being forced into the constant “celebration” can be very stressful and isolating. For example, I will be getting through my first Christmas since my partner died. Although we were always very low key about holidays, I will likely not be celebrating it at all. I don’t need anyone to know that, or care, I would just prefer not to be forced to have to think about that at work and lie to keep up the “holiday cheer”.

  2. Rebecca*

    I totally agree with making things opt in friendly, and not punishing or putting people down for not wanting to participate. I’m dreading ugly sweater day. First, I don’t have any Christmas sweaters. Secondly, if I did, they wouldn’t be ugly, and no, I’m not spending money or time either buying one or doctoring up a sweater for a silly contest. When the contest day arrives, and I’m not sporting an ugly sweater, I’ll get to endure the comments about being a scrooge, not a team player, etc. Whatever.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Ha I’d just wear a regular sweater and when asked say “what do you mean? I think this is hideous?”

    2. Clever Name*

      We do “ugly sweater” Fridays in December. People really get into it, and it’s pretty hilarious. We have a ton of thrift stores in the area, and it’s stressed that it’s not intended to make people go broke to participate. I believe I bought all my sweaters for less than $20 total this year. I think it’s a know your office thing. I work for a small company, and one of my coworkers organizes it, and it’s always optional.

    3. OhNo*

      Ugly sweater parties/days are something I will never understand. They’re basically asking you to spend money to buy something you would (probably) never otherwise buy, that you can only wear one day out of the year and will probably never look at ever again.

      I get that the original intention of the idea was to be a little silly with something you already own, but now it’s just gotten to the point where “ugly xmas sweater” is one more stupid item you have to buy to participate in the holiday season. Blegh. Count me out.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yep, around here you can find them at thrift stores for $5, or sometimes you know someone who still owns one from when they were actually in style, but if it seeps into having to go to pricey vintage shops or buying a brand new one in the style of the old ones, yuck.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Or having to go shopping at all for a special thing – it’s not that $5 is a big deal, but I would rather not have to spend my downtime combing Goodwill for a work-related ‘optional’ item.

          1. OhNo*

            Yeah, the time input is almost worse than having to spend money. I really, really hate shopping, so even if it was a quick dash into a thrift store, spend 2 dollars, and get out, I’d probably still hate it.

          2. Bostonian*

            Yes! I desperately need to go shopping for several things for my regular work wardrobe, and I haven’t started my Christmas shopping yet because I’ve been so busy. Mandating that I spend non-work time thrift shopping for something I don’t even want to own is not likely to go over well.

            Thrift shopping is always good in theory, but it often takes a lot longer than regular shopping. Everyone says “oh, just go to a thrift store”, but I might have to check a few stores to find one that had an appropriate ugly Christmas sweater in anything like my size, and that’s a couple of hours I could really use for other things.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Yeah, true. Good point. I’m always at the thrift stores anyway, so it’s not extra time for me, but you’re right, it is for people who aren’t already addicts.

            2. INTP*

              Yeah, to be honest I absolutely hate thrift shopping. I get allergies from all the dust in the store, I hate looking through all the crap, they aren’t the most pleasant shopping experiences (I had my purse stolen in a thrift store once), just no. I’d rather buy something off of a Target clearance rack.

        2. INTP*

          Even $5 on an item I don’t actually want annoys me. I don’t just indiscriminately spend $5 here and there on items for myself – I don’t buy pricey lattes every time I feel like it without thinking about it, I don’t buy every magazine with a headline that catches my eye, I don’t buy Old Navy workout shirts every time they go on sale. Even a $5 thing is asking me to forego a $5 item that I do want to buy one that I don’t want. And my philosophy on stuff like that is that if it’s worth $5/person in morale, the company should pay for it. They shouldn’t consider certain traditions to be worth the employees’ money but not their own. (I know I’m a grinch but whatever. I’m fundamentally bothered by employees being expected to spend their money on work things just because it’s a “fun” item. If it’s implicitly or explicitly required, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a cab ride or a sweater.)

      2. Case of the Mondays*

        I think many of us received ugly Christmas sweaters as gifts from well meaning distant relatives growing up and thus, had one on hand for such an occasion. I know I own at least one “funny” rudolph sweatshirt from an Aunt and weird snowflake ensemble from my mother in law.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Yes, it was always my impression that people did it so they could laugh instead of cry about the horrible sweaters their relatives gave (or worse, made!) them.

        2. OhNo*

          Really? I thought that was something that only families on TV did. I certainly never got a Christmas sweater from any of my family members. I do get hats, scarves, gloves, and the like, but never any themed sweaters. Maybe I’m just lucky like that.

          1. Hlyssande*

            My grandmother certainly did it. Repeatedly.

            One of my school pictures involves this absolutely hideous black sweater with pink skiers and pompoms all over it.

      3. Kelly*

        One variation on the “ugly sweater” is the wild shirt day. My dad attended a six sigma certification training for nearly a year once a month, and to get the participants to loosen up a bit, the instructor had a wild shirt day. Wild shirts for my dad are button up or polo shirts not in khaki or earth tones. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that majority of shirts in his wardrobe were maybe 4 colors at the time. My mother took wild shirt day as an excuse to introduce oranges and pinks into his wardrobe on a regular basis and to toss out some of the more worn drab colored shirts out. To some extent, she’s succeeded in expanding his color palate for work clothes. Most of the other participants had the same idea, but that wasn’t wild enough for the instructor. He changed it to Hawaiian shirt day. Those were fun to shop for and I do think that he kind of enjoyed the experience of looking for them. It did rub off on him because my father now wear Hawaiian shirts on the weekends.

      4. peanut butter*

        I agree. I have an old unusual looking sweater that I freaking love that I can’t wear at this time of year because people comment that I am going to win the ugly sweater contest. Ugh! Just let me wear it in peace. It makes me happy and I love the color combination.

      5. Anxa*

        I’m not a big fan of them.

        I much prefer ugly Christmas sweater parties that happen more organically. Before it was a thing, I know there were always a few people that would come to holiday parties in their old 90s sweaters. It wasn’t really ironic, but there was a subverseness to it I guess.

        I don’t think ugly Christmas sweaters are ugly at all. But until their resurgence they were certainly dated.

        I guess I just wish people would dress festively to parties, whatever that means to them. Black sequin dress? Red satin dress? Cable knit sweater with jeans? Embellished sweaters? All good.

    4. Angela*

      We have ugly sweater tomorrow and last week a colleague confided to me that she saw another colleague wearing the sweater she planned to wear for ugly sweater day. I will be interested to see if she still wears the “ugly” sweater.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I think ugly, mass-produced sweater should definitely get extra points. If I had one, I would totally wear it if I knew someone else had the same one.

        1. Jerzy*

          It sounds like the coworker was wearing it just as a piece of clothing, and it was not intended to be a joke. That could be an awkward situation.

    5. Jennifer*

      Ugly sweater contests are only for those who are into that sort of thing or already have one. If you’re not, then don’t.

      (I uh…made my own.)

      Anyway, I went to Goodwill and literally saw sweaters with like, a Christmas bow and/or some twigs sewn to them, being sold for $15. Good lord.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          You have saved me.

          I’m not going to buy such a kit, but it has just sparked an idea. Tomorrow I may just safety-pin a piece of paper that says “#ugly” on it to whatever I wear (which won’t be a sweater, because I own like ONE sweater and tomorrow’s forecast is for 60 degrees again, so why would I wear it?!).

          1. Honeybee*

            One of my coworkers does that for our ugly holiday sweater thing…he takes a plan sweater and safety pins some tinsel on it and hangs some lights and ornaments.

    6. NGL*

      I haaaaate Ugly Sweater parties, especially at work. I actually enjoy dressing up for work! Even on more casual days, I opt for slacks (instead of the tailored dresses I usually wear – I invest in a lot of tights in the winter) over jeans and T-shirts. Last year I was inited to no less than 3 Ugly Sweater parties for various departments at work – I “unfortunately” had urgent meetings that conflicted with all of them.

      1. Elizabeth*

        I like to dress up for work, too. We can wear jeans and sneakers on Fridays if you pay $2, which goes to our recreation committee. But I never do, I don’t own any jeans. I might wear khakis or a pair of dress slacks with a sweater instead of a jacket, but that’s about as casual as I get.

    7. Tau*

      We have ugly sweater day this week and I’m pondering whether I can bow out with “not my culture!” because I really don’t want to have to buy one. (It really isn’t my culture, I’d never heard of Christmas sweaters before I moved here.) Problem is I only started in July and don’t know how out of sync with company culture this would be.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        We’re doing it too–tomorrow!–and I don’t have anything, really. Nor will I buy or make anything. In fact, I’m thinking of taking my lunch ticket and just filling a plate and going back up to my cube. I can always say I had something to finish.

    8. AdAgencyChick*

      Ungggghhhh ugly sweater day. I have said at least ten times that I’m not buying a sweater just to wear to our Yankee swap and I have a feeling I’m still going to get some disappointed faces when I show up tomorrow not wearing ANY sweater, ugly or otherwise.

    9. Merry and Bright*

      In the UK we actually have National Christmas Jumper Day this Friday. The idea is you wear the jumper to work and pay a donation to charity. There is even a Text Santa number for doing this.

      I bought a cheap jumper in a market for the purpose. I figured it is a small price to pay because I already had leave booked this Thursday which means I will miss Organised Jollity and Mandatory Fun arranged for the evening. But I can still be a Team Player in my red jumper decorated with reindeers and snowflakes!

      1. TheLazyB (uk)*

        I arranged Christmas jumper day in my last job. I wore a plain black jumper and pinned baubles, Santa and Rudolph to it. It was awesome, if I do say so myself.

        1. Merry and Bright*

          Wish I had thought of something like that! Still, none of my previous workplaces has done Christmas jumpers and I’m sort of looking forward to it. I’m not really a Grinch but I am allergic to doing anything karaoke-related. (Once upon a time in a Chinese restaurant…!).

        2. Kyrielle*

          I am *so* stealing this idea if I need to attend such a thing in the future, I can get a sweater I can re-use other days and only make it “ugly” and “Christmas” for the event! O.o WHY did I never think of this? So awesome.

      2. Pipette*

        Ah yes, there are posters all over the office for this. It’s too warm for jumpers here! It’s +15 °C outside for crying out loud. Can’t even wear my Christmas Pudding hat. Unless I skip the jacket. Maybe I’ll tack some Christmasy stuff on a green t-shirt on Friday.

  3. Me*

    #5 was always the worst for me. I always hated being forced to go to the Christmas party as a non-Christian and told that it was a secular party and I was being a bad team player for not wanting to go. There’s no such thing as a secular Christmas party!

    Now I work from home and can ignore Christmas in peace.

    1. alter_ego*

      One thing that I really like about my company is that we have a couple of Jehovah’s witnesses on staff, which means no holiday parties for them. So we just have a summer outing in July (usually a booze cruise), and a winter outing in late January (usually a sit down dinner). Neither are associated with any holidays, nor are they trying to brand them as “you know, it’s not a holiday party! It’s just a party that happens to fall on a holiday!”

      1. Serin*

        The other nice thing about this idea is that December is crazy busy with social opportunities, and late January tends to be pretty boring. So it would be nice to have something to look forward to when the Christmas rush is over.

        1. alter_ego*

          Plus I think it’s cheaper then. So we do it for the Jehovah’s witnesses, but it certainly wasn’t a hard sell when they saw how much less it costs that far after Christmas.

        2. Crazy Dog Lady*

          +1 to this. We have a department dinner around the holidays, plus a company-wide holiday party. Both are kind gestures, but it is exhausting when they are in the same week. We had the department dinner in November last year, and it was the best!

      2. Tau*

        We do the late January party thing as well, and I’m looking forward to it a lot more than if it were in December!

        1. Windchime*

          My old office used to do this. We would have a theme party (like Western theme, or something silly and easy). It was in January or February. There would be catered food, a no-host bar and either a band or a DJ. Yes, we would have to sit through some boring Employee of the Month talking but there were also drawings for prizes, like spa visits or a TV or a gift card to a fancy restaurant. For the Western-themed party, there was decor (bales of hay, etc) and sometimes gambling with tokens. It was fun, it was free, and totally opt-in. People who traveled from out of town were put up in a hotel for the night.

        1. alter_ego*

          yeah, as an atheist, it’s kind of nice to not have to worry about any kind of ceremony that I’m not comfortable with ending up being a part of it because well meaning bosses don’t realize that not everyone is comfortable with a nativity scene or something.

    2. Felicia*

      I also hate when they call it a holiday party. Christmas is the only holiday of religious significance that I know of during that time. Hanukkah is a minor holiday that’s not religiously signfiicant

      1. Chameleon*

        Except there are many other holidays at this time of year. Solstice, New Year, Bodhi day, numerous moving holidays (e.g. this year Eid al-Adha and Diwali are both during Nov-Jan).

        I’d much rather have my work call it a holiday party and acknowledge that “the holidays” don’t just belong to Christians.

        1. xarcady*

          I’ve always considered the period between Thanksgiving (in the US) and New Year’s as the “holiday season.” Most people in the US celebrate either Thanksgiving or New Year’s, except for those that don’t celebrate any holidays at all. So, for me, “holiday” seems to work out.

          1. Me*

            Those other holidays get nowhere near as much attention as Christmas, though. The period between Thanksgiving and New Years is very much the Christmas season and calling it the holiday season doesn’t change that.

            1. Cat*

              Eh, I’m not Christian (though I do a secular Christmas celebration) and would be extraordinarily uncomfortable with a nativity scene or carols or anything like that at work – and I’ve heard a disturbing number of stories of that happening, which bothers me a lot.

              However, I think it serves a cultural function to have a period where work slows down; where people take the time to acknowledge each other and, particularly in the work context, acknowledge people who have done them services over the past year; and where it’s expected that you reach out to people you don’t see or interact with all the time but who matter to you in some way.

              And the period between Thanksgiving and New Years–also one of the darker and colder periods of the year–makes sense as the time to serve this cultural purpose and probably would even if Christmas wasn’t the dominant holiday (which, of course, it is). Honestly, Christmas is where it is not because that’s actually a historical date but because pre-existing celebrations happened at that time of year.

  4. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    Also closing without pay and without much notice for more than a couple days. People count on $ to pay their bills!

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Funny you should mention it, last year they decided to close a couple of extra days and took it from our PTO and some people were really upset who didn’t have much in their bank, but this year we get those days paid. And by the way I’ve always wondered if they can dock PTO for days they decide to close since the employee has no option to work even if they wanted to?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If you’re exempt, they’d need to pay you; the law is clear that exempt employees can’t have their salaries docked “for absences occasioned by the employer or by the operating requirements of the business.”

            However, they could require you to save PTO for that, or take it from your PTO allotment for next year.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Yeah from what I hear around here, your PTO would just go negative until you accrued more.

  5. anonanonanon*

    Re #6: Also, don’t plan for the holiday party to be in a location that’s hard to get to. At one of my old companies, the department head would either have a fancy party at her home, which was in a suburb you couldn’t easily get to on public transportation, or at a well-known restaurant that, again, you could only get to by car. Our company is located in the middle of the city and a lot of the 20 and 30-something employees lived in the city, on public transit routes, and either had no car or no money to take an expensive cab ride out to a suburb. It ended up creating this really weird city versus suburb dynamic that bled over into other areas.

    I appreciate that my current company is very lax about holiday stuff and instead treats the traditional holiday party as an optional end of the year celebration to celebrate the work we did over the year. Christmas isn’t even mentioned aside from people talking about their holiday plans. It’s nice.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      I once had a company Christmas party at a venue which was a 25 minute bus ride from home, with buses being more limited in the evenings. The company had provided a bus to get us to and from the venue, but I didn’t like being stuck and unable to leave when I wanted. (Taxi prices are utterly silly here). To make matters worse, I had already made plans for the following day which included a very early start.

      1. Anon for this*

        I just made my excuses for one that was a 20 minute bus ride and then a 30 minute walk from work, with then a 30 minute walk and more like an hour bus ride home at the end, to which I was also supposed to bring food and a gift. I had to make up a fake story, because otherwise this one supremely nice co-worker would have insisted on driving me, and I would have been massively taking advantage of her generosity, because she lives nowhere remotely near me.

        1. MoinMoin*

          It’s of course your prerogative on whether or not you want to attend, but as someone who would totally be that coworker, I’d like to just mention that they really might not find it a bother. I’m aware of the what I’m offering and I’ve already weighed in my head how much I want you to be included (or selfishly, how much I want you to keep me company) versus how much time/effort/gas it may cost me to make that happen. You’re not obligated to go if you’d rather not anyway, but if you’d otherwise want to go, the opportunity to genuinely be helpful is all the thanks some people want.
          I’m sure you already know this, but I just want to reinforce it anyway because I used to be really shy and panicked at the thought of “owing” someone something and said no a lot of times when I wanted to and should have just graciously accepted.

      2. anonanonanon*

        Yeah, this same company would give us a mandatory summer outing where they did provide buses, but it was always somewhere an hour outside the city, so you were stuck there without a way to leave if you didn’t have a car or want to pay about $100 for a cab.

        I know events are commonly held outside the city because they’re probably cheaper, but it always annoys me when people assume everyone has a car. I live in the city for a reason, and it’s so I don’t have to own a car or fight for parking. Or pay a ridiculous amount for a parking spot. No thanks.

    2. Solidus Pilcrow*

      Corollary – don’t hold the party in an area with little to no parking like ex-job did. It wasn’t a holiday party, but rather a business meeting. Most of the staff worked in remote locations and had to 1) try to get to the downtown business area at rush hour (meaning some people would literally have to skip out of work at 3pm to make it through traffic) and 2) circle around for an hour to find parking or pay for valet parking (or park up to a mile away).

      The person who thought of that location should have been made to valet all the cars. And it rained that afternoon, so it was extra special walking 6 blocks to the venue.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Oh, ugh. We have that problem in our downtown area. Parking is either paid or nonexistent. Some places have lots that belong to other businesses right next to them, but they’re private and you risk being ticketed or towed if you park there, even if the other business is closed. I hate when people want to do something downtown without taking the parking at that location into consideration.

    3. AnonForThis*

      I attended a holiday party once at a bar an hour from my home. I bought a nice holiday neutral gift from Pier 1 and ended up with an old re-gifted game. The food wasn’t good and no alcohol was served. It was terrible.

    4. Lillie Lane*

      My company rented a shuttle to get the remote employees to the restaurant at last year’s employee appreciation party (we were all staying at a local hotel) but they scheduled the pickup very late. We were the last ones to get there and by then the food was mostly eaten and cold.

    5. INTP*

      Good point – or make the scheduling difficult for people. My parents just had to attend a mandatory fun holiday party, on a Tuesday night. They have a special-needs adult son and maybe two people in the state that they trust to keep him (he’s 22, so some physical strength is required). I was on a massive deadline. So they had to drive 15 miles to me at rush hour, drop him off, and then drive 25 miles in the other direction to reach the party. They tried to leave at 8pm (on a Tuesday, remember), and the CEO stopped them at the door and told them that they needed to stay for his speech. So they had to listen to the speech, drive the 25 miles to pick up my brother, drive 15 miles back home, and attempt to put their autistic son in bed an hour past his normal bedtime while all agitated from a disrupted routine. On a Tuesday.

      The point of that long and rambling story being, a lot of your employees are performing dramatic feats of scheduling just to be at the party. Don’t treat them like they’re obligated to have nowhere more important to be. Deliver any speeches that everyone must listen to right away, and if you absolutely must require your employees to stay for hours, don’t be cheap and spring for a weekend. (Even weekends can be a major hardship, but generally less so.)

      1. another IT manager*

        My policy is that I’m not going to get dressed and take the train into the city on a weekend for a (work) party, so I wouldn’t be making the weekend party, either.

    6. AdAgencyChick*

      This is exactly why I hated that my last company would always have their annual party on a boat. Give people the option to have one drink and leave. Sheesh.

      1. anonanonanon*

        My last company had our annual winter/holiday party on a boat, too! Because apparently everyone wants to be stuck together on a boat for three hours during the winter.

  6. Sarasaurus*

    I would add throwing lavish holiday parties when the budget is tight – especially when staff are receiving small or no bonuses.

    1. The Sugar Plum Fairy*

      I’ve shared this before, but the first company I worked at did this. It was Christmas 2008 and they had just laid off several staff members. They decided to have a very lavish holiday party anyway. It was so tone deaf. I decided that I wouldn’t attend based on the principle of it.

      1. AnonForThis*

        Oh wow. This needs to be fleshed out in a post all on its own. “Jane can come to the holiday party, but Fergus can’t…”

    2. Beck*

      I think that’s really dependent on the company culture. We have a really nice holiday party every year but typically no bonus, but the holiday party is lots of fun and an opportunity to hang out with coworkers we might not interact with very often! I really don’t mind not getting a yearly bonus and getting a party instead.

      1. K.*

        I’m exactly the opposite. If I have to choose between a holiday party and a bonus, I will take the bonus every single time – it’s a complete no-brainer for me. A bonus actively improves my life in a way that a holiday party with colleagues does not.

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        Eh, it doesn’t seem so bad if there is the tradition and expectation that there will be a party but no bonus. It’s worse when people expect both, and are told that bonuses are getting cut but the party is still on.

      3. MoinMoin*

        Agreed. I’d rather have the bonus, but if holiday party costs are anything like a wedding (and I assume so- venue, catering, dj, favors, etc), price per person isn’t a whole lot and once the venue is rented the total costs don’t change dramatically if you increase attendance. If the budget per person is only going to be $20 or $50 or so, I’d rather have a really nice night out than the bonus. Varying personal budgets and coworker tolerances obviously have an effect here, though.

    3. Roscoe*

      I’ve honestly only ever worked one place (my current company) that gave out holiday bonuses. I don’t think its necessarily an either/or thing though. Just the companies preference on what they do. Now if they used to give bonuses, then cut them, I could see being annoyed at the party. But even still, even a lavish party is probably cheaper than giving everyone a bonus.

    4. Jane Doe*

      How about throwing lavish parties, but only for senior management? But keeping it a “secret” – and not realizing that the community isn’t quite small enough for no one to find out.

      Bonus points for the party being held at a club that only allows membership to men. How 19th century of them.

  7. lowercase holly*

    i heard a radio commercial the other day that said something like “need to find that perfect brandy for the executive boss?” and was like noooo.

    1. Lora*

      :( my office is taking up a collection to buy gifts for our direct supervisor, her boss and our three leads. How can a person possibly say no thanks I will opting out as I am on a tight budget and all you get are cold stares in return? Yikes!!

  8. Maxwell Edison*

    These are all good points. I’d add: don’t manipulate employees with holiday expectations. To be specific: Don’t send out a department-wide meeting invite that doesn’t say “party” but is decorated with holly and ivy and bells, etc., and then when everyone arrives, tell them it’s a meeting to discuss everything that’s wrong with the department and how to fix it, in particular what’s wrong with management, and then get mad when people don’t say anything because their managers are present. This incident became known as “the great holiday party fake-out.”

  9. A Teacher*

    Can I add scheduling a meeting the last day of the work week that could overlap to when we are supposed to be dismissed for the holiday where we can’t take our lunch so they are “buying us lunch” and we are the only department with a meeting? Said meeting is also pointless–the salesman in question is trying to sell a product that the department head already met with the person on.

    I’m a bit annoyed about it.

  10. Argh!*

    re: 2. Being insensitive to differences of faith – or non-faith.

    There has been very little in the news about the argument that preceded the attack in San Bernardino. While it was clearly a terrorist attack, it was also a workplace attack. Was this “holiday party” heavily Christian, and the lone muslim employee, who happened to be secretly planning some other attack, provoked to attack coworkers instead by disrespect toward his faith? I’d like to know more about the workplace dynamics there.

    1. Temperance*

      Considering the fact that he and his wife were planning something much more sinister and were inspired by ISIS …. I don’t think it’s very nice or effective to ponder about whether the murder victims deserved to be killed or pushed their murderer to the brink by throwing a Christmas party.

      1. Kelly L.*

        This. Even if they were all complete assholes, which we have no idea, that’s not how you respond. Let’s not blame the victims.

        1. Hotstreak*

          It’s obviously not an appropriate way to respond, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t part of why they attacked the party.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            We have no indication that that’s the case, and I’m going to second Temperance and Kelly L. and ask people to drop this line of speculation here. Thank you.

            1. Hotstreak*

              Oh, I didn’t mean to agree with Argh!, I just wanted to say that Kelly L’s and Temperance’s responses didn’t make sense to me. I’m sorry if it came off another way!

    2. The IT Manager*

      Honestly I find I apply dark humor to those types of incidents. And I did very much notice that this was an attack at a holiday party and thought that some people really, really do hate their annual holiday party.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I feel like it was mostly at the party because that’s a time when you have everybody in the same room and people not really being in alert-brain-mode, but that’s speculation.

    3. Former Retail Manager*

      Just gonna leave the San Bernadino comments alone…….

      But on the faith versus non-faith….I believe the gist of the season is to wish others good cheer, happiness, and prosperity over the holiday (that they may or may not celebrate) and in the coming new year. Theses are general good things that I hope we wish upon others regardless of their faith or lack thereof. I’ve never worked anywhere in which anyone of a certain religion wasn’t invited or was ostracized for attending. Holiday parties are mostly an excuse to sit around and chit chat, eat more than you should, and just enjoy each other’s company. No one is singing Christian hymns….geez. I would LOVE it if all the other religions and non-religious individuals would get over themselves and realize that not every Christian who attends a Christmas party cares that you are not Christian or has a desire to convert you. If I worked in a business of a predominantly non-Christian religion and they extended the invitation to a party to me, I’d happily attend……without my chip in tow.

      1. Person of Interest*

        But as someone who is a member of the dominant faith (I’m presuming from your comment), what you don’t realize is how the subtle things that seem harmless to you add up to a culture that subtly reinforces Christianity as the mainstream and everything else being “other.” I’m talking about the poinsettias around the office, the pine boughs, the red and gold candles/candies/ribbons/plates/whatever, the fact that Christmas Day is a work holiday for everyone regardless of their religious affiliation, etc. Yes, I’ve been to many office holiday parties without a drop of religion inserted (I’m Jewish), but our U.S. culture is just not a-religious in the way you hope it is. Even your comment about the “gist of the season” is exactly my point: non-Christian December holidays aren’t necessarily about peace on earth, people just say that to try and demonstrate inclusiveness, when you’re really just applying your own faith to others.

        Sure, you’d willingly attend a holiday party thrown by another faith, but I challenge you to think about how you would feel if you lived in a predominantly Jewish society where every office and government service was closed for Yom Kippur, where the radio played Chanukah songs for a month, where everyone shared their favorite matzah ball soup recipes all April long, and it had nothing to do with your faith but there was the expectation that you participate anyway because “c’mon, everyone loves this!”

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I don’t care what religion you are if you’re giving me food. I’ll join right in. :)

          Seriously, though, I get what you’re saying. It’s weird when the majority culture is something that isn’t your culture. There are many reasons besides religion that someone may not celebrate Christmas, and I think it’s pretty rude of somebody to insist on participation anyway. I do really like participating in other traditions if invited, however, because I’m always up for learning about something new.

        2. Observer*

          As an Orthodox Jew, I agree that it can be hard for members of the dominant faith to get just how pervasive these markers can be and how many invalid assumptions go into attempts at being inclusive etc. Nevertheless, the idea that this in any way shape or form contributed to what these murderous terrorists did is simply mind boggling. I personally find it offensive, but more importantly, it’s utterly at odds with the facts that we know.

          The suggestion goes to victim blaming and whitewashing the terrorists. I understand that that is not what you were getting at. But the original post does exactly that.

        3. Chinook*

          “I’m talking about the poinsettias around the office, the pine boughs, the red and gold candles/candies/ribbons/plates/whatever, the fact that Christmas Day is a work holiday for everyone regardless of their religious affiliation,”

          Can I ask what pointesettas, lights and pine boughs have to do with Christmas? Maybe it is because I live in a place where it is only light from 8 am until 4 pm at this time of year, but bringing living things (pointesetias seem to be one of the few colourful plants that show colour at this time of year) and light inside a building in the darkest part of the year is how you keep yourself from sinking into depression. I get the overtly Christmasy things like nativity scenes and Santas, but are colourful lights in the same category?

          1. Observer*

            When the main thing they get used for is to celebrate this particular holiday, it just becomes associated with that holiday. Let’s face it, the reason these work places use these things is that they ARE code for “Christmas cheer”.

            I’ll never forget the first time we were in Israel during the Succot holiday, and my kids saw succot decorated with tinsel and light strings. They were stunned, till I pointed out to them that the people doing this had probably never seen a Christmas tree in their lives. Personally, I enjoyed being in a place where tinsel is just tinsel and lights are just lights, not the stuff in my face all December decorating Christmas decorations.

          2. anoning*

            Pine boughs are associated with the Christian idea of everlasting life and different lights represent different liturgical colors, Christian symbols or themes. Poinsettias became Christmas tradition because people would give them as gifts to honor God because the leafs symbolize the Star of Bethlehem and the red color represents the blood sacrifice of Jesus.

            Almost all traditional Christmas decorations have a heavy Christian origin.

            1. Cat*

              I would say that all traditional decorations have been appropriated by Christians to have a heavy Christian symbolism. I think the rest of us can choose to use them for our own purposes or not just as legitimately.

              1. Oryx*

                “I would say that all traditional decorations have been appropriated by Christians to have a heavy Christian symbolism. ”


      2. Zelda Rubbysteins*

        I’m a Christian. Two of my best friends are atheist and Norse pagan respectively. With both people, I have friendly discussions and engage in activities that are important to them, because I care about them, their beliefs and thoughts are interesting, and because I was raised to be accepting and inquisitive, and to believe that everyone must find what works for them and their own path in life. I am not better than anyone else, and I may not always be perfectly thoughtful, but I’m certainly not hateful, malicious, or exclusive. I wish more Christians would chill out with their persecution complex (let’s face it: we’ve got it pretty good here in America), and everyone in general would stop putting so much emphasis on who believes what and who says what to who. Celebrate how you want, or don’t at all, but let’s be respectful.

        1. Argh!*

          At our holiday parties ham is always served as the main dish. That probably makes Jews, Muslims & Hindus feel real welcome.

          1. Jean*

            This is when us non-ham-eaters chat and circulate while eating Not So Much. Easier when it’s not a sit-down-and-be-served occasion, but either way, there are worse problems.
            That said, I appreciate your concern and sense of humor!

      3. Kat M2*

        There are a lot of social implications that go beyond the holidays, though. It’s not a matter of “getting over themselves,” it’s a matter of fact that we should at least acknowledge non-Christians/people who don’t celebrate the holidays and include them as much as possible.

        Also, if it’s just a party, you don’t need to tie it to a holiday that not everyone celebrates or have decorations associated with that holiday. But let’s stop pretending that Christmas is truly secular. It’s not. Plain and simple.

      4. anonanonanon*

        A lot of holiday parties rely on traditional Christmas decorations or themes. When you don’t celebrate that holiday or partake in that religion, it’s noticeable that it’s pretty much a Christmas party with a generic name for the sake of being inclusive.

        And the thing is, a lot of Christian holidays are national holidays or paid time off days for public and private companies. You can’t say the same about other religions in the US. Telling someone to get over themselves because they’re not entirely comfortable with a party that uses traditions and decorations tied to a religious celebration is not in the spirit of good will and cheer.

        1. eplawyer*

          Can we just skip over the whole religion/culture thing and accept that some people don’t like parties, period. Some of us are stressed enough at this time of year without being made to feel bad because we don’t want one more thing on the list, regardless of how “inclusive” it is or isn’t?

      5. Ask a Manager* Post author

        People who don’t belong to non-dominant faiths really don’t have standing to tell people who do how they should experience this stuff. In general, it’s not a good idea for people in the dominant group to tell people outside of it how they should feel or think.

      6. Observer*

        Just gonna leave the San Bernadino comments alone…….

        Then you should really not have posted in this sub-thread. Because by doing this you conflate all the people who have genuine and reasonable issues with the attitude you display with people who think that it “explains” in some small measure the San Bernadino attack.

        People who are not comfortable with “Holiday” parties that are about Christmas and “other holidays” that are pictures as the X religion’s version of Christmas don’t need to “get over themselves”. Nor do they belong in a discussion about people who used the occasion of such a party to commit mass murder, or any attempt to paint that as somehow related to “workplace insensitivity.”

      1. Argh!*

        I have experienced one workplace where a required meeting was begun with a prayer that ended “In Jesus’s name, Amen.” The meeting was a real work meeting, not a party, so I posted this because it is indeed possible that the killer was subjected to a hostile workplace. It wouldn’t have caused him to become radicalized (probably – unless he was truly bullied) but if he had his arsenal stashed and ready for some big event, and was on a short fuse, and then got told by some Christian to “get over it” and suck up the overt Christianity of the party, it could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. This is why I’d like to know if that was a factor. It wouldn’t by itself in any way justify the actions but might go toward explaining why he chose his workplace (and included his boss amongst the victims) rather than some other target that might have had more visibility, a higher victim count, and symbolic meaning.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There’s no evidence to that though, and it’s coming across an awful lot like wondering without actual evidence whether the victims somehow provoked their own murders. Again, I’d like to repeat my earlier call to stop that speculation here.

        2. Observer*

          It also doesn’t fit what we DO know about the situation. It’s pretty clear that they had plans for that day.

  11. Geegee*

    My office is doing a cubicle decorating contest, which makes me feel awkward. They say, “just use what you have at home,” but I’m two years out of college and just moved in with my boyfriend a year and a half ago from my parent’s house. Suffice it to say I don’t have much Christmas stuff to spare around the house.

    I feel a bit like an outsider with my coworkers, so I don’t want to not participate. This would be fun if it didn’t involve money and I wasn’t anciety-prone and currently testing a new medication. It’s not mandatory, but I’d feel bad if I didn’t contribute something…but I also don’t want to let on that I’m basically poor. I’m hourly and don’t get paid much, and if I miss work, that’s money I don’t see, unlike people who get paid sick days.

    Any advice, y’all?

      1. Xarcady*

        This. The garland, festooned on the outside of your cube, goes a long way to making things look festive/seasonal.

        Or if you have any money to spare, one strand of sparkly garland. Sparkly distracts the eye from what else isn’t there.

        Or decorate completely with copier paper. Snowflakes, and white paper garland. All over the walls of your cube. Make some origami trees, or a Santa, or bows, or little gift boxes, or stars, or ornaments. Google “Christmas origami” for ideas.

        1. Lindrine*

          Also, one year when my kids were little we made a construction paper cut out town and decorated the buildings with crayons. I’m sure you could find something on Pinterest, but at the time I checked out a Mary Englebert holiday decoration book. We strung the paper cutouts on string like a big garland.

          Also easier than snowflakes are holiday stars (

    1. OhNo*

      Can you make paper snowflakes out of printer paper at the office? They don’t usually take too long to make, unless you want to get super fancy. Crank out a bunch over a break or in those few minutes when you haven’t got anything else to do, and hang them all over your cube.

      If that’s not an option, how about ribbon bows everywhere? Ribbon is usually pretty cheap (especially if you buy cheap stuff from the dollar store), and it’s pretty easy to make a bunch of bows out of it and string the extra like streamers between the bows. To make it look slightly fancier, you could buy two colors and alternate.

      1. OhNo*

        Also, if you do want to get more X-mas-y, do you have any pine trees where you live or near the office? You could grab a few boughs (although be careful not to hurt the tree!) and make a pseudo-tree in one corner of your office by binding the branches together. I did that in my college dorm room a few years in a row.

        1. Carpe Librarium*

          Further from that, we used to paint pine cones as a kid to put under the tree. Perhaps a couple of pinecones and some cheap silvery/white/glittery nail polish. Just brush the ‘leaves’ of the pinecones to look like snow – they make pretty acceptable mini Christmas trees.

    2. anonanonanon*

      If you feel like you need to participate, just take some printer paper and make some snowflakes or snowmen and scatter them around your cube. If the office has colored paper, make a paper garland.

      Credit to you for wanting to participate, though. Anyone who assumed I had stuff at home just because they did would put me off participating out of annoyance.

      1. Geegee*

        For what it’s worth, there are maybe two people my age in the office and the rest are 40s and up. They’re very nice people, but a lot of things I get asked out to (holiday events, department lunches, etc) are on my dime and it tends to happen more frequently than I’d like.

        Thanks for the suggestions! I’ll see what I can do :)

    3. Jipsy's Mom*

      Oh, this is a tough one. Any chance you could request hand-me-down items from your parents, or your boyfriends’ parents? When my husband and I were newlyweds, both of our parents took the opportunity to send us some holiday decorations, and a couple of those things did make it to work with me for my cubicle. To be honest, some of it was really kitschy stuff from our childhoods…it was kind of fun for the cubicle in the same way an ugly Christmas sweater at work can be. Most people found the 70’s macrame santa pretty amusing, so much so that I still hang it up 15 years later. Another thought, if you have someone at work who you do connect with, might be to ask if they have decorations they’re not using that they might loan you. Honestly, after a couple of years, I think many people have stuff tucked away that they’re not using. Or maybe that’s just me with the box of decorations in the garage that I don’t use, but can’t quite bring myself to get rid of (for sentimental or other reasons).

    4. Case of the Mondays*

      The dollar store likely has stuff! I know even $5 can be too much sometimes but if you have a little bit to spend, your money will go further there. I worked for a non-profit with a very tight budget and we would make holiday gift bags for our teenage clients and we put together some really impressive stuff with dollar store finds. It is not all junk.

      1. Jennifer*

        Or thrift stores, this sort of thing goes for 50 cents.

        But I pretty much second the “do crafts on your own.” Cut up a magazine or old Christmas cards, that works too.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Flea markets, too. I haven’t paid full price for wrapping paper in years.

          If your cube has panels that pop out, you could wrap them in cheap wrapping paper and then pop them back in, like in the middle row all around the cube. Someone suggested this to me recently and I thought it was a great idea.

        2. Merry and Bright*

          I buy my wrapping paper from my favourite stationery shop in January when it is sold off at half price, ready for next year. Also cards and gift tags.

    5. Sparrow*

      You could check out a dollar store for Christmas decorations. Maybe get some garland to hang up.They might even have flower arrangements or wreaths and stockings to hang up. Can you use wrapping paper to “wallpaper” the cube walls.

      1. Jennifer*

        I totally want to do this. Except I’m not so swift at putting up an aluminum pole.

        I have seen them sold at Urban Outfitters, but it was for like $35. The Costanzas would not approve.

    6. Bostonian*

      I’ve never worked anywhere with a cubicle decorating contest, but could you decorate according to a nostalgic theme of elementary school crafts? Get some construction paper and maybe some popsicle sticks or cotton balls or pipe cleaners or something – the dollar store should have some good kid-craft stuff. Then look on the internet for the equivalent of the handprint turkeys that kids make at Thanksgiving. I’m thinking reindeer made from toilet paper tubes, snowmen made from paper plates, and that sort of thing. The more obviously childish, the better, and maybe put up a sign about Ms. Geegee’s classroom or something?

      Not sure if it would fly at your office, but it was the first thing I thought of.

    7. JTD*

      Buy a couple of short lengths of chain from a hardware store and announce your cubicle theme is “A Christmas Carol”.

        1. JTD*

          Or just get a jar of black and white striped boiled mints and offer them to everyone who drops by.


    8. Gandalf the Nude*

      The paper snowflakes are a great idea. You could also snip some holly or other evergreens and make an arrangement out of them. That’s what we did at church, once upon a time.

      Alternately, you could take mine off my hands since my partner and I decided not to celebrate Christmas anymore, haha.

    9. Anon85*

      Check out the free section on Craigslist or Freecycle–a lot of people right now are setting up their decorations and replacing stuff and tossing out the old decorations!

      We got a gorgeous pre-lit Christmas tree (works great!), several wreaths, lights, a set of 100 red and gold ornaments, a wicker reindeer…I decked out my whole home and cube with free finds.

      1. Kyrielle*

        This, and if you’re on Facebook, see if you have a local Buy Nothing group (they’re great for the community anyway, at least my area is).

    10. Serin*

      Not advice for you, but for your management … when our company had a pumpkin decorating contest this year, the rules specified that you couldn’t use anything that wasn’t already in your desk.

      We probably had fewer entries because of this, but the ones we did get were very creative. I was surprised at what could be done with pushpins.

    11. Stranger than fiction*

      Not sure if it’s the case in your city but where I live there’s thousands of pine cones on the ground one could collect for decorating purposes. One year I had my kid throw some glitter on a bunch of them, threw them in a basket that was lying around and presto, I had a holiday decoration.

    12. Emily*

      If you have some money to spend, you can get some decent, low-use decorations atDollar store/general or the like. We get most/all of our wrapping paper there. And wrapping paper can be used a myriad of ways in decorating.

    13. Purple Jello*

      Paper chains. You could make them with copier paper if you don’t want to buy construction paper. Or the funnies. I’d just make snowflakes; I used to be pretty good at improvising, but you can now buy snowflake pattern books, and I’ll bet there are some free ones on the internet.

    14. Purrsephone*

      Geegee, here is a link to Apartment Therpy’s recent post on inexpensive holiday decorations:

      In addition to the paper snowflakes and other items, why not decorate with a single string of Christmas lights. So many people on CL are selling or even giving them away–or Michael’s has miniature ones for about $4 per strand. You can make that popcorn strand and intersperse the popcorn with cranberries for color. Not much needed either.

    15. lonepear*

      Ask some of your coworkers who are really into it if you can use some of their supplies! Most crafty/decoration-happy people have extra materials sitting around (not that I am talking about my overstuffed bins of craft supplies, no) and would happily give you some to let you participate.

  12. Hotstreak*

    “Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, this is the holiday party for you!”

    – Actual quote from an invitation I received this year. Not exactly welcoming to me, as an atheist!

    1. Angela*

      They need a line that says “or if you just want to celebrate that all this holiday nonsense is about to end!”

    2. neverjaunty*

      Not all that welcoming to me, either – it’s so clearly a “oh, we want to do Christmas and pretend we’re inclusive”.

      1. voyager1*

        As an atheist in the Deep South, that is actually a step up in inclusiveness.

        When it comes to being discriminated against as atheist, holiday parties tank far below the government sponsored crap in this part of the country.

    3. Adonday Veeah*

      We had a “…because FOOD! and WINTER!” party. We hired a crew to come in and cater, we set up tables, and invited staff to come in and socialize for lunch, or grab a plate and go on about their business. We had the food warm and available over a 2-hour period to accommodate all lunch periods. No holiday theme, no presentations, just… food. It was well attended.

  13. Going Anon*

    Ugh, our office is #4, giving a gift to the boss. It’s been going on for like 15 years, so I don’t feel like I can put a stop to it. In fact, someone put me in charge of it this year. I’m trying to do “bunch of little things” rather than “super fancy crowd-sourced present.” Worst of all, I think if the boss didn’t get a gift, s/he’d be really annoyed. And that’s something we all try to avoid.

    1. AlyInSebby*

      Gah! I just hate these bosses!

      Her gift should be a book you make from copier paper and printed on the company dime of all the advice columns that say we don’t gift upward and bosses who expect that are dolts!

      I’m self employed now, but if I ever go back to crazy company land I will firmly quote Alison, Judith, Leticia and Evil HR Lady, if they don’t like it they can fire me and I can get unemployment for two years!

      ooh and there’s another opt out quote “Oh I would but you know it’s totally inappropriate and I would hate to behave improperly in the workplace or have a good reason to collect unemployment for two years, you know the company has to pay a part of that right?” ( just try to argue that Boss person). This column and Evil HR Lady have given me so much confidence and clarity – just not gonna take that crap no more. I know loosing a job isn’t something a lot of people can do anymore I was in that position with last company (and they ended up paying me two years of unemployment!).

  14. YOLO*

    We got in trouble for wanting to throw a going-away party for a colleague, so rebranded it as a Festivus party (we’re all over the range of believers and non-believers and so forth). It seems to successfully slide under the radar so far.

    1. Dani X*

      In my office decorating is optional – and someone put up a festivus tree. They just put lights around a coat rack. It’s pretty funny.

      1. Windchime*

        We actually had a Festivus party once at work. I donated a metal closet pole for the Festivus pole. We leaned it up in the corner of the room, ate treats and pretended to air grievances about each other. Someone made up a festivus song and we made a half-hearted attempt at singing it. It was a really fun time.

    2. LCL*

      But what about me? I find Jerry Seinfeld’s comic persona offensive, and didn’t like the way the tall actor was treated like he was dumb, and the George Costanza character disgusting.
      Actually I would still go, because a party is a party!

  15. Nervous Accountant*

    Reading this, I’m so glad my company doesn’t pull any weird stuff. We’re doing a white elephant gift exchange which is nice, and our work party is at a nice place during work hours so we either have the option of staying in office or attending the party.

    I did temp at a place once when the company had a huge annual event…conveniently at the time hwen my staff and I were on duty so that felt really crappy.

  16. Amber Rose*

    This year everyone got gift cards to the grocery store, with a “dinner is on us” and a handshake from the president. I thought that was pretty sweet actually. Because if you don’t do Christmas turkey, whatever, go buy some groceries. I bought a 7 kilo turkey and I’m stoked. :D

    We closed early for the party, and cab fare was covered. And we spent an afternoon setting up the tree (which is a monster) and some random ribbons but otherwise it’s been low key. People bring in treats if they like and there was a couple days where my boss was selling random crap (like lollipops he stole from a nearby pub lol) because we’re raising money for the food bank, but otherwise it’s been pretty low key and light hearted.

    It’s a nice change from other jobs I’ve had.

  17. C'mon gimel!*

    Friendly shout-out to all the other non-Christians who are tasked with planning their organization/team’s “holiday” parties this year!

  18. CAA*

    Throw the party you can afford!

    I worked at one place where you had to pay for your guest. Nobody on my team went because they didn’t want to commute home, pay a babysitter, get dressed up (we were a casual workplace), then drive downtown (the opposite direction from where most lived), pay for parking, and pay for their spouse to attend — and all this was on a weeknight!

    I felt so bad I planned an alternate happy hour for my team where we took off from work an hour early and just had drinks and appetizers. Everyone got home in time to spend the evening with their families, and nobody spent money except me.

  19. Triple secret anon*

    Our holiday luncheon was a meeting. 20 min of lunch/social part followed by a 1.5 hour presentation. I will admit it was a very interesting presentation, and a much-needed one, because communication in the office had all but dried up lately and I personally was at the point where I had no idea where our department was going, what our current status or next plans were. So I was glad to get a detailed update. But during a holiday (sort of) party?? All the years and all the places I’ve worked at, I’ve got to say this is a first. I’ve never had this experience before.

    We do not have after-work holiday parties. That meeting was it.

    1. K.*

      Yeah, while I can see the value in that, that sounds a lot like the quarterly briefings we had at my old employer – and those were definitely not parties.

    2. AlyInSebby*

      The first place I ever worked full time did this.

      I was 22, I was so bored, had no idea what an annual report was, no one explained the business goals to me.

      This was in San Francisco 6 weeks after Loma Prieta, they rented the empty industrial space next door, put xmas wrap up everywhere.

      No food, no booze, no camaraderie. Luckily it set the bar low for my expectations of holiday parties.

      I still have never been invited, demanded or otherwise attended a holiday party I had fun at or was glad I went to – I always went home thinking “I had to miss the X-Files for THAT!?”

  20. Person of Interest*

    Re: #7 – My dad’s old company used to give everyone a Christmas turkey, which my mother would freeze and then serve at our Passover seder.

      1. YaH*

        My dad’s company gives him a Honeybaked Ham every year.

        We’re Jewish.

        Although not particularly observant, yay for bacon!

        1. AlyInSebby*

          My hubby’s old company gave us a turkey one year…the day before Xmas, i.e. Xmas Eve!??

          If you are planning to serve one and didn’t know someone would be giving you one, you kinda had to buy it a minimum of 5 days before that!

          My teenage niece lived with us for those years, she finally asked the 4th year “How long are you gonna keep that insult turkey?”

          We live in an area that has frequent blackouts – we kept it in the freezer for five years – when the power went out it was frozen solid and kept everything in the freezer cold.

          We threw it out last year ;[]

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Exjob did that at Thanksgiving–they gave out a turkey certificate you could take to the grocery. It was a nice gesture, but I live alone and hate turkey. Mine always went to a coworker who had extra people to feed. At least I knew it wasn’t going to waste.

      1. Judy*

        Those are actually checks, so you can just deposit them in your bank, if they are the Butterball ones. Or use it at the grocery store for other things.

  21. JTD*

    My company does the staff party in January. We do Christmas lunches on an individual team basis, but considering that our team of seven has a Hindu, two recovering Catholics, three active atheists, a Fluff Cthulhian* and three “no idea” among us, including one person who finds forced celebrations of holidays they were reared to regard as religious first deeply distressing, I think we’ve found a good balance.

    And I’m the team member who is four of those things listed.

    *He Exists. I have tickled His Tentacles and scratched His Brain Ridges b

    1. Ho Ho Freakin' Ho*

      Recovering Catholics! I love it! Was raised Catholic and I’m not sure what I am now. Maybe a Recovering Catholic?

      1. JTD*

        After muttering about deadlines that meant I couldn’t take this Thursday afternoon off, there was a spontaneous chorus of “isn’t that religious discrimination?” from the others, which had me howling with laughter.

        Although I was careful to let them know I’m more Sith than Jedi.

        My office and my immediate colleagues are seriously brilliant.

        1. Honeybee*

          Star Wars Day is a time for peace across the former empire, on which both Sith and Jedi alike can celebrate in good cheer.

        1. could be anyone*

          That is an actual term. The Church claims you from Baptism till death no matter what.
          I call myself a non practicing Catholic married to a partial Catholic (doesn’t agree with everything but goes to Mass and gives) with 3 kids who went to Catholic schools (K-12) who are all currently non practicing.

        2. JTD*

          I know what I am – recovering Catholic is the jokey term that a lot of us use since you can’t actually formally leave the RC church except in a couple of countries where there are state tax implications (and, for a short while, Ireland, until the Vatican made the Archbishop of Dublin stop doing it). And I prefer to define myself rather than have someone else do it for me.

          1. F.*

            Another recovering Catholic here. I know the damage that was done to me by the Catholic church and my very strict Catholic parents. It has taken years of therapy to even begin to learn to love myself.

  22. Ho Ho Freakin' Ho*

    I hate our holiday party because they stick it right in the middle of the workday, therefore requiring you to take PTO if you don’t want to attend it. And since I work second shift, it starts right when I show up for work, meaning I’m not one bit hungry for the buffet lunch because I just ate breakfast. I’m also on a strict diet and can’t eat most of what’s on the menu.

    This year, I don’t feel like forced jollity. My best friend’s sister is terminally ill, and we expect she will pass at any moment now.

  23. Soupspoon McGee*

    I used to work for a public institution that had a pretty nice holiday lunch for employees and families (we paid for it, not the institution, but $7 got a very nice meal). It included an optional raffle for nice prizes, with the raffle money going to scholarships. But . . . the last year I attended, the choir sang Christmas songs–not “Frosty the Snowman,” but obviously religious songs, like “Silent Night.”

  24. LSP*

    The only thing I want from my work holiday party is some tamales and for them to let us go home early when it’s done!!!

    My spouse’s party is in January this time (normally it’s in the beginning of December). Girl, I have mentally moved on to taxes and getting my summer bod on. Bye.

      1. LSP*

        Ugh. Yeah, us too probably. I was just throwing it out there so the Office Space Gods could hear my wishful thinking.

        Let my people go…!

    1. esra*

      Our party is mid-January too. No thanks guys. I say we all just wait and celebrate the lunar new year with some dumplings.

      Look, I just really want dumplings.

  25. Workfromhome*

    Lets see my company has lots of repeat traditions that kill moral….

    1.Requiring people to use PTO for forced office closure days. Especially since PTO accumulates and we have limited carry over.
    2.Removing Christmas bonuses (used to be $ or gift cards) with “donations in your name” to some charity you don’t support that gives the CEO a tax break
    3. Having a big fancy p[arty for the head office people and nothing (0) for the 10 or so remote employees some who have been with the company over 20 years. I’ve been here nearly 15 and 10 years ago they let us expense dinner without spouse. Since then nothing. Compound it by sending email reminders out to everyone repeatedly about the party that you can’t attend.
    4.Ordering in lunch on X MASS Eve and New Years eve but not letting remote employees expense so much as a cup of coffee.

  26. Kelly*

    I currently work for a public institution as part of team that really doesn’t do much for the holidays. My boss will give us a small gift and maybe another person will bring some baked goods. It all comes out of our own money and/or time, rather than any taxpayer dollars. It seems a bit hypocritical and two faced to spend public dollars on decorating (donated) Xmas trees at the state capitol and governor’s mansion. However, the governor’s mansion one was sort of worth it this year because a certain governor with a prominent bald spot must have put a little too much brandy in his egg nog and took a tumble while putting an ornament up. It almost, but not quite, made up for the lack of raises for the next two years.

  27. HappyWriter*

    The last company I worked for gave $25 gift cards to a well-known warehouse club (who also happened to be a client)… But then they taxed it as unearned income on your next paycheck. Happy Holidays!

  28. Student*

    Please keep the Christmas-related festivities on hold until after Thanksgiving.

    As a particularly Scrooge-minded non-Christian, I find it annoying to have Christmas decorations at work all of December, but I’ll tolerate it as part of the local culture and keep my grumpy thoughts to myself.

    I find it absolutely maddening to see the decorations go up before we’ve gotten to Halloween, however, and would strongly prefer to keep them boxed up until we’re at least on Dec. 1. I really don’t think it’s too much to ask that you keep your holiday religious celebration at the (secular, government-funded, in my case) workplace down to a month.

  29. Longtimereader*

    This isn’t directly holiday except for the time of year but my company was recently sold off after being under a larger company for only ~2 years. The sale was finalized mid November and last week we got our new benefits package; everything went up 3+ times what it was with the old ownership and naturally everyone was grumpy about it. Then last week the new benefits specialist emails the entire company saying our rates are actually lower than they were before, the company just isn’t paying any part of it and we should all be happy we weren’t laid off. Cheers.

  30. Dasha*

    Can I add dumping a bunch of work on your employees right before they take off for the holidays and calling employees while they’re scheduled to be off? Unless it’s truly urgent, please let people relax and recharge.

  31. Edacious*

    I hate having to pay to attend our main Christmas party. Team leads throw their own parties that are either catered or potluck. But it sucks to have to fork out 50 or more per person to go to the main one.

  32. MT*

    I *loved* our office holiday party! It was so fun!

    Except for the part that I had to work it. So long after my department friends had left, and I’d had the amount of alcohol I was comfortable having before the drive home, I was still hanging around until the very last stragglers chose to go home.

    But aside from that it really was very nice.

  33. McAnonypants*

    It doesn’t really warrant inclusion in the list, but I found out we do a holiday photo as a team. My internal cringe muscle got a workout today.

      1. McAnonypants*

        Yeah, I realize I’m in the minority (though probably not alone) on my own team. Not the hill I’m going to die on. :D

  34. LH*

    Ah the Holiday Season. There is no decorating around here nor bonuses, just a card and chocolates from the boss to the employees. Last year my company paid for our team (about 8 people) to eat cheap burgers and attend an NHL game. This year we’re going to a restaurant known for its scantily clad ladies and watching the new Bond movie. Did I mention I’m the only woman in the entire company? HR would probably have a heart attack if they knew but they’re offsite and blissfully unaware.

    1. LH*

      Oh, I almost forgot a senior VP’s gift of soccer themed men’s cuff links one year. I guess it’s the thought that counts?

    2. LH*

      Then again all of the above is way better than ex Giant UK Corporate job that made its employees from one division participate in a skit. If I remember correctly, the manager was a former Pop Idol contestant who had her male direct reports dress up as women and perform a dance for the rest of the department before her solo. Most of the guys were good sports and she was a very good singer but it was cringe-worthy to watch. We all just wanted to eat our free lunch and chat with our colleagues in peace.

    3. anonanonanon*

      As a woman, the only thing I’d object to is the restaurant. I’d be so excited if my company wanted to pay for NHL tickets. I don’t really see how a spy movie or a sports game have to be a gendered thing. Plenty of women like those things, too.

  35. Whippers*

    Being told we were being given a $20 Christmas bonus.. but actually having to spend it on Christmas lunch with the boss.

    1. Former Professional Computer Geek*

      A friend of mine had a job where they were told they were getting a holiday bonus. The “bonus” turned out to be a little stuffed animal with the company’s logo on it.

  36. Former Professional Computer Geek*

    I think I’ve mentioned this before here, but #6 (making sure everyone can go) happened to me at a previous job.

    My department used to have the holiday party at a place that had its party room down a flight of steep stairs, with no elevator. After I became disabled I politely asked the boss if they would move the party to somewhere more accessible, as climbing up and down stairs was no longer something I could do.

    The boss said, “But everyone likes that place!” and refused to move it. My last two years there I had to put up with, “But why weren’t you at the party?!” from everyone in the department… including the boss.

  37. Pipette*

    Bending over backwards for clients who demand that your staff is available on bank holidays. Sure, these are Big Name™ clients, but none of the work they send us is ever so critical that it could not wait a few days. Also, the target markets we serve pretty much shut down to only truly essential functions from Christmas to New Years, so nobody will be around to receive the content anyway. But I guess the clients like to feel super important or something. I do wish our management would put the foot down and tell the clients that they are being unreasonable. I feel so sorry for my co-workers who have to put up with this.

  38. Christina*

    Ugh, my all-department holiday party. Noon to 2:30 pm, so I lose my lunch hour, Aramark catering (so, cafeteria food), I have to “work” since I have to take photos and write a recap about it for our staff newsletter. The only plus is I can avoid most of the awkward chit chat by hiding behind the camera (a few years ago, when I marginally enjoyed the parties, I asked my boss if we could pass the camera among the 4 of us on the team so one person didn’t get stuck working the whole time. She looked at me like I was crazy). We used to get to go home after, which made it tolerable, but no more.

  39. LadyCop*

    #6 You forgot non 9-5ers!!!! As a night shift employee…the fact that literally every single party or event YEAR ROUND is scheduled from 2-4pm is devastating. This is to accommodate 1st and 2nd shifts, but leaves me without so much as a chance to attend as this is the middle of my night (seriously, it’s like throwing everyone else a party at 3am). So even if I wanted to partake in pot-luck, gift exchanges, costume contests, movie days, BBQs, ice cream socials, and employee appreciation week…I cannot. Why? Because I work the night shift, so I am not a person, and I don’t count. :'(

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