How Well Did You Survive the Holidays at Your Office?

By Ashley Miller, M.A. Jan 5, 2017

​Last month, SHRM HR Knowledge Advisor (and my colleague) Rue Dooley, SHRM-SCP[MB1] , provided several light-hearted but realistic tips for working through the holiday season in his post on the SHRM Blog. He told organizations and their staff to be careful when it comes to "parties, bonuses, good tidings, decorations, inclement weather, drunkenness, and so much more." If your organization heeded Dooley's advice, well done! But what if it didn't? Now is a great time to reflect on and remind ourselves of how important it is to put into practice two HR competencies, Global & Cultural Effectiveness and Ethical Practice, consistently throughout the year, not just in the context of the holidays. The wisdom behind each of Dooley's tips applies all year round.

Demonstrating Global & Cultural Effectiveness involves valuing and considering the perspectives and backgrounds of all parties. Today's workforce is more diverse than ever, which means that variations in religious beliefs are just as diverse. Not everyone shares the same beliefs. Did Santa Claus visit your organization in December? Dooley told readers to think twice before "allowing the CEO to play Santa and have employees sit on his (or her) lap.... In fact, don't let ANYONE play Santa at the holiday party." While the tradition of Santa may seem commonplace to some, not everyone we engage with on a daily basis may feel the same way. One of the greatest things about our country is our freedom to hold any beliefs we desire. With that freedom comes the responsibility to be respectful of beliefs different from our own.

Some may find it culturally insensitive to see Santa and Christmas trees (or the Easter Bunny, or jack-o'-lanterns, etc.) displayed all around the office. Decorations might also be unsafe; as Dooley put it, "Things tend to fall on people this time of year." So I hope you played it safe in the workplace and reserved your holiday traditions for celebrating with friends and family.

The Ethical Practice competency means building trust, demonstrating behavioral integrity, and interacting with others with a sense of professionalism. Behaving ethically involves integrating core values, integrity and accountability throughout all of your practices. Did you follow Dooley's suggestions as to gifts, bonuses, and compliments? ("Cash, gift cards, and gift certificates are all taxable income to the recipient." "Yes, you can have discretionary bonuses, but they still have to be fair." "People tend to look nicer than usual. You want to tell them. You can, but don't!") The ethical thing to do is to lessen the potential to offend or display favoritism. If you didn't heed Dooley's advice, you may have found yourself in an ethical dilemma.

Did you give everyone on your team a gift, so that nobody's feelings were hurt? Or did you give gifts only to colleagues with whom you felt you had a close relationship? If the latter, I hope you found time to give out those gifts outside the office and normal work hours.

Bonuses should always be based on performance, so ethically speaking, they're a little easier. Did you follow this best practice in allocating bonuses, to avoid a sticky situation?

Speaking of getting paid, who doesn't love being paid a compliment? We all do—compliments make us feel good about ourselves. But I hope you didn't compliment colleagues on their appearance, decked out in their holiday finery. To keep things professional, focus compliments on work or performance. (For example, don't be afraid to tell a colleague what a great job you thought she did writing that piece in the company newsletter. But refrain from telling that colleague how great you thought she looked at the editorial meeting!)

How was your organization's holiday party? After you had a couple of drinks, did you think your dance moves were worthy enough for "Dancing with the Stars"? Dooley's advice on dancing is "Don't hurt yourself! Or anyone else!" That goes for any company-sponsored event. Do yourself a favor and save your moves for a night out with your friends. Not only could you hurt yourself or someone else physically, your dance performance could hurt your image back at the office, impeding the way your colleagues see you professionally.

Finally, keep in mind Dooley's tip on political correctness: "You can't please all the people all the time, but try!" While, as HR professionals, we are obliged to recognize the importance of Global & Cultural Effectiveness and Ethical Practice beyond the holiday season—the need to remain culturally sensitive and respectful of others, and to behave with integrity and professionalism—holidays are times to be celebrated. We can't always please everyone while we are at work, but it is our responsibility to at least try.

Ashley Miller, M.A., is senior specialist for HR competencies at SHRM.

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