7 Ways to Wreck Employee Morale During the Holidays

In many workplaces, the holiday season is prime time for initiatives meant to boost employee morale – bonuses, gift exchanges, and holiday parties, to name a few. But it’s easy to make missteps this month that can send morale plummeting downward – ironically, from the very things that managers intend to increase a sense of camaraderie and appreciation.

Here are seven ways to wreck morale during the holidays.

1. Making attendance at the company holiday party mandatory. Companies usually hold holiday parties to build employee morale—but if you make what should be a fun event mandatory under the guise of giving people a holiday treat, you’ll hurt morale, not build it. If the party is meant as a gift, you can’t turn it into an obligation, so don’t penalize people for not going – not even unofficially.

2. Being insensitive to religious differences. Nativity scenes in Reception, religious hymns at the office party, or simply assuming that everyone celebrates a particular holiday can quickly make some of your employees feel isolated or uncomfortable. (This can also happen when efforts to be inclusive go awry – such as putting Hanukkah ornaments on a Christmas tree.)

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

4. Allowing people to be pressured to chip in for an expensive gift for the boss. Gifts in the workplace should flow downward, not upward (if they’re given at all), but many offices still expect workers to contribute to a present for the boss. If you’re a manager who suspects someone is taking up a collection for you, make it clear that the best gift employees can give you is doing a great job all year long – and that nothing else is necessary.

5.  Giving employees gifts that they can’t use – or are even offended by. Bottles of wine or Christmas turkeys might seem like gifts that will be universally welcome – until you realize that you have recovering alcoholics and vegetarians on your staff. (And if you’re perplexed by what to give that will be universally loved, think along the lines of bonuses or extra time off. These never fail to please.)

6. Letting managers win the best gifts in a holiday party raffle or gift swap. If your VPs are walking out of the holiday party with big-ticket gifts or prizes (TVs, high-dollar gift cards, ski weekends) while lower-paid staff end up with mugs or other trinkets, expect morale to plummet and cynicism to reign.

7. Throwing an extravagant party while company finances are tight. If the company has recently laid off staff or cut back in other ways, holding a swanky holiday affair will demoralize employees faster than you can say “ice sculpture shaped like Justin Bieber.”















Alison Green

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

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  • Telework Recruiting

    Thank you for this article! I felt a jab in my stomach with almost each one. I remember dreading the holidays when I worked for a hospital. I was a pee-on counselor, yet spent more money on a cocktail dress and up-do than I made in a week! And yes, the gifts were unusable and the big-wigs won all the nice prizes. I would have preferred to stay home, but the pressure to show up was enormous.

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