Fa La La La … Blah? The December Work-Life Holiday Balance
This article was originally published on Women in Print.
At the risk of sounding like a Scrooge, the holiday season – as joyful as it can be – is often pretty stressful, too. In fact, the November-December time frame is sometimes referred to as the “third shift” for working women: job + home + holiday. So, how can companies best host at-work holiday celebrations without adding seasonal burden to their employees? Keep reading to see what women in print professionals had to say.
A Blue, Blue, Blue Christmas?
According to a recent CNN article by Gemma Hartley, who’s written extensively about the concept of women’s “emotional labor” (defined as the at-home counterpart to paid employment labor), the winter holiday season leads to a “ramp up” of the unpaid kind of work necessary to juggle extra calendar commitments, adjust to school schedules, meet expectations of various family members, manage holiday travel, and other “unseen and under appreciated efforts to keep everything humming along smoothly.”
Besides logistical stressors, other personal circumstances can dampen one’s holiday spirit. A recent survey by ValuePenguin found that 61% of respondents said they expect to feel lonely or sad this season, while 67% checked “anxious” or “stressed” as an expected feeling this holiday. Dealing with grief over losing a loved one is the most common reason respondents (43%) listed for holiday depression or sadness. Other common reasons for less than joyful expectations include being away from loved ones, seasonal depression, and financial concerns.
Your Gen Z colleagues (ages 18-26) are the demographic most likely to sing the “holiday blues;” 73% report negative feelings associated with the holiday season. ValuePenguin reports that “women (63%) are more likely to share this sentiment than men (58%).” Who wants to skip the December holiday season altogether? A full 31% of respondents. Bah humbug!
The At-Work Holiday Party: Added Joy or Added Burden?
In light of stress or extra home life burdens many colleagues (or you) are likely experiencing this season, should a company even bother to host a winter holiday or year-end celebration? Is the upside even worth it? Generally, yes.
Benefits of hosting or attending a staff gathering during the winter holiday months include building corporate culture, demonstrating thanks from leadership, and providing social networking time and space for remote/hybrid/shift work employees who might not otherwise interact on a regular basis. For single or non-parent colleagues, especially, the office gathering might actually be a highlight on their holiday social calendars.
The trick is striking the right chord between celebrating and not adding to employees’ social, financial, or time stressors. And, being mindful that not everyone celebrates the same holidays in a similar manner, if at all. It’s not always an easy balancing act for employers or employees (Society of Human Resource Management calls it the “December Dilemma”), but there are printing companies who have found the right recipe for making merry.
How to Make Merry and Be Mindful This Season
Women in Print Alliance asked four highly respected HR/legal professionals to share below how their companies sponsor holiday cheer in a celebratory, yet mindful and inclusive manner. A special thanks to: Amy Tardiff, VP & General Counsel at J.S. McCarthy Printers, Brianne Petruzalek, VP Human Resources at Sheridan, Michelle Waterhouse, HR Manager at Hopkins Printing, and Dawn Webber, Director of HR at Royle Printing, for sharing their collective tips and real-life examples with the women in print community.
Tip #1: Focus on seasonal celebrations or end of year recognitions instead of or in addition to religious holidays. This doesn’t mean shying away from Christmas. Rather, expand upon it or switch the celebratory to focus on a season or secular holiday, like Thanksgiving, which still allows yearly wrap up-focused gatherings. Keep in mind that employees and co-workers from other cultural backgrounds may be learning about any of these traditions for the first time. Be mindful and support their curiosity, and use the office celebration as a chance to ask questions and learn more about each individual’s traditions.
How They Do It:
Michelle: Our holiday celebration focuses on Thanksgiving instead of Christmas. We have a meal together around Thanksgiving each year. Last year we catered in Italian and this year we had a Chili Cook-off. Employees could sample and vote on seven traditional chili flavors and then seven specialty options that included vegetarian, white chicken chili, grilled bacon cheeseburger chili, chili with potatoes, chili without beans, and a double chocolate chili. We have some great chefs here at Hopkins! This year, we also gifted each employee with a sweatshirt to honor their contributions to a record-breaking sales year.
Tip #2: Provide a company gift that employees can enjoy at home with loved ones. Even in companies where “everyone is like family,” most employees are focused on their own personal holiday festivities. Companies can add a bit of joy by supporting employees’ holiday celebrations outside of the office and demonstrate thanks while at the same time alleviating extra financial expenses many bear during the holiday season.
How They Do It:
Amy: We hand out Thanksgiving gift cards and homemade pumpkin bread to every employee at Thanksgiving. At Christmas, we hand every employee a ham, along with a small “swag” gift bag (i.e., water bottle, reusable tote bag) to take home for functional use.
Brianne: At Thanksgiving, we distribute a grocery gift card to employees. It’s presented in a card featuring the artwork of the winning employee/artist from the company’s Annual Turkey Drawing Contest.
Dawn: We organize an annual “12 Days of Giving.” Employee names are randomly drawn each day to win various prizes ranging from items they or their families can use, such as gift certificates and even a TV.
Tip #3: Be cognizant and inclusive regarding employees who work shift schedules. DE&I consideration should be extended to work schedules, too, particularly in a print manufacturing setting reliant on shift work. Organizers should be mindful to make a holiday party time work for everyone, and attendees should pause to embrace the opportunity to meet or get to know co-workers they don’t personally interface with frequently. This consideration also involves menu decisions on whether or not to serve alcohol and the duty care of employers sponsoring an event.
How They Do It:
Amy: Our holiday party is held “after hours,” but we accommodate employees’ schedules by shutting down one hour early at 4 p.m. If our party is held on a late afternoon/evening where we have a night shift operating, we don’t serve alcohol as employees are going back to work after the celebration. When we do serve alcohol, we limit consumption by providing everyone two drink tickets.
Dawn: We host a holiday celebration across all shifts during business hours. This year, we are hosting a mac & cheese bar for “Lunch with a Grinch.” All members of our leadership team (“Grinches,” no offense!) sign up for time slots to serve and engage with the entire team…and handle clean-up duty, too.
Michelle: Our chili cook-off was held on one workweek day over three separate shifts. Because people were working, alcohol was not provided. (We did provide lots of Fritos & soft drinks, though!)
Tip # 4: Focus on a charitable cause that expands the celebration from the company to a wider community. Not only will this foster camaraderie as colleagues focus on a common fundraising or collection goal, but it will elevate your celebration beyond simply “receiving.” A charitable focus is also an excellent way to bring together a diverse workforce as the act of giving transcends any one particular holiday.
How They Do It:
Brianne: We coordinate an annual campaign called “The Giving Tree” that is open to employees as well as community members. Donated items (including monetary donations) are collected for Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army. We also “adopt” several families, and employees collectively contribute to provide them with a food basket and holiday gifts.
Dawn: We adopt families through the Badger Childhood Cancer Network and provide gifts for the patients and families from their wish lists. Additionally, we host a company-wide bake sale with proceeds dedicated to the American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
Tip #5: Consider a making the celebration a multi-generational one. Adding in the kids (or grandkids) not only helps working caregivers combine job + life “shifts,” but allows co-workers to get to know one another on a more personal level. Plus, for co-workers without young children at home, it’s an added bonus to see the wonder of the season through eyes of the “littles.”
How They Do It:
Dawn: We host an annual Visit with Santa where our team member’s kids and grandkids are invited to attend and receive a gift, enjoy milk & cookies, and participate in a Christmas-themed coloring contest. All kids who submit artwork receive a $5 Culvers gift card. ALL kids attending receive a McDonald’s gift card.
Wrapping It All Up in a Bow...
Clearly, each company has its own culture, budget, and ability to organize (or not organize) an employee holiday or year-end celebration; there’s no one-size-fits-all event. If you work at a company that does not currently offer any type of gathering and you wish it did, the examples above can serve as an inspiration list for your HR professional or employee benefits committee. Likewise, if you’re feeling that your company could make its holiday festivities more inclusive in some way, the tips above are great to share with HR. Office holiday party traditions can and should evolve with the times.
And what if it’s been a tough year not just for individuals, but for the entire company? Is it appropriate to celebrate at all?
Lynn Abernathy Mulholland, owner of True North Career and Life Transitions Coaching, offers this take: “The last thing anyone wants to do is put on a mask of false positivity to create a forced celebration. Toxic positivity is a very real, very dangerous culture that leaders should avoid if possible because it creates an unsafe environment to express your true self. At the same time, to do nothing at year-end simply feeds the negative energy that might already exist within a team or organization.”
Says Lynn, “To that end, I firmly refuse to believe – no matter how difficult the year has been for your company, team, leadership, financial markets, geo-political events, and more – that there isn’t at least one accomplishment, one milestone, one event on your team that deserves acknowledgement and recognition. Notice, I didn’t refer to a “celebration” but, instead, recognition. Validation that the team has worked hard, and it’s been noticed. Noticed by you, by their peers, and perhaps even by senior leadership.”
Finally, if you’re suffering from the holiday blues this season or if the emotional labor overload is just too much this year, know that it’s alright to take a pass on the office holiday party.
“No employee should EVER feel forced to attend a social event at work. Nor should they feel guilty or afraid to decline the invitation,” says Adriane Harrison, VP Human Relations at PRINTING United Alliance. “Whether it’s an off-year for you emotionally or whether you simply feel uncomfortable participating due to your personal beliefs, it’s okay to give yourself the gift of passing. Just be sure to look for other non-holiday party ways to connect with colleagues throughout the year so that you don’t cheat yourself out of the benefits that social connections at work provide.”
Lisbeth Lyons is Vice President, Government & Political Affairs, PRINTING United Alliance, the largest, most comprehensive graphic arts trade association in the country. With more than 20 years of experience representing the voice of business on Capitol Hill, Lisbeth advocates for public policies that protect and advance the economic future of the printing and packaging industry. She oversees PRINTING United Alliance’s legislative, political, and grassroots advocacy initiatives, and has served in executive leadership of multiple successful advocacy campaigns, such as Coalition for Paper Options, Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, and Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers Coalition.
Prior to representing PRINTING United Alliance, Lisbeth served in similar roles at Printing Industries of America, US Telecom, and the National Federation of Independent Business. She also spent three years as a K-12 teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system, where she was on the forefront of urban education reform in the mid-1990s.
Lisbeth is Midwestern born and bred, having grown up in the St. Louis metropolitan area and attended college at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, before starting her career in Washington, DC. She holds a B.A. in English/Sociology and a professional graduate certificate from The George Washington University School of Political Management. She lives in the historic Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC.
An avid leader and learner in professional development, Lisbeth was a founding member of the Government Relations Leadership Forum, and is an active participant in organizations such as Council of Manufacturing Associations, Women in Government Relations, and National Association of Business PACs, among others. Lisbeth is often a featured speaker at premier industry conferences; she has spoken to Boards of Directors, corporate executive management teams, and state and regional trade associations across the country from coast to coast.