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Eisen Places Client on Forbes: Sheakley’s Angie Strunk Discusses Holiday Parties

Holiday 2012: Five Signs You’re Working For The Grinch

When the invitation first showed up in your inbox you thought  it was a mistake. “The annual [Your Company Here] holiday party will be held next Monday evening in the third floor conference room at five pm, ending promptly at seven.  Soda and sandwiches will be served.”

Bah-humbug, it’s official: You’re working for a Grinch. And he’s trying to steal Christmas.

As it turns out, for more and more employees, free sandwiches are as festive as it gets: according to a new survey from Seamless and BizBash, just 47% of employers will be holding company-wide bashes this year. And those that will still haven’t scaled up to pre-recession levels of revelry. Booze budgets have been slashed and many events have been moved to weeknights—or worse–daylight hours.

But it isn’t just putting the kibosh on the annual holiday party that can damper on the holiday season at work. According to experts, there are a handful of critical mistakes that employers make during the holidays that can have lingering effects on employee engagement well into the New Year.

“People get very attached to workplace holiday traditions,” says Bruce Clarke, CEO of HR management firm CAI. “Losing or de-emphasizing these things—no matter how trivial they may seem—can be a big mistake.” From hosting lackluster events to skipping charitable giving to radio silence on the question of bonuses, these missed opportunities can make Scrooges out of even the most well-meaning employers.

Scrooge Cities: Cities Where People Work Hardest Through The Holidays

AFP/Getty Images Is Your City A Scrooge?

Is Your City A Scrooge?

Seamless and BizBash teamed up this year to measure the cities where it’s business as usual through the holiday season. How? By looking at corporate food orders between December 24th and January 1 to see who was at their desks–and ordering on the company dime. These are the six cities who work the hardest through the holidays. Bah humbug.

Bah Humbug No. 1: Oh Bonus Check, No Bonus Check

For millions of employees, the days of the holiday bonus have come and gone (it’s been since 2008, people) but many still wait with baited breath at the end of December thinking this year—surely this year—their paychecks will be extra padded for the holidays. Others are experiencing the sting for the first time in 2012. But the experts agree that holding back on bonuses isn’t actually the mistake—not being open about it is.

“Transparency is so important,” says Alicia Huppman, the program manager for human resource management at Philadelphia’s Peirce College. “If there will be no bonus it’s critical to address why.” Employees don’t like to be left in the dark, she says, which can foster resentment in the ranks, particularly if bonus checks have been a long-standing tradition. Explaining the decision helps employees understand it in the greater context of job losses, potential increases in benefit costs.

Bah Humbug No. 2: Have Yourself A Very Little Christmas (Party)

“Studies show that most people don’t like their jobs,” says Clarke. They don’t like what they do each day and they’re not happy about showing up. “But they almost always like the people they work with.” Mucking up the annual holiday party could be mucking up the only aspect of work employees actually relish—and as a proponent of employee engagement to promote productivity, Clarke warns that is one major no-no.

Instead, Clarke advocates moderation at events—both in the “vibe” of the party, which should aim for festive and casual without losing its corporate edge and in the policy for alcohol consumption. “For so many people alcohol is a natural element of celebration,” he notes, so a teetolling party can come as an unpleasant surprise to employees looking to let loose. His answer? Limit the number of drinks for each employee with drink tickets.

Angie Strunk, Vice President of HR solutions firm Sheakley agrees, and provides an additional piece of (quite genius) advice for employers hoping to avoid the Scrooge trap of a dry party—without opening themselves up to the liabilities that accompany a booze-soaked evening. “Allow employees to invite their spouse,” she says. The benefits are two-fold: employees see the move as generous and the presence of significant others tends to put everyone on their best behavior.

Bah Humbug No. 3: Keep Your iPhone With You, All Through The (New) Year

When employers expect their employees to be fully committed through the holidays, they’re asking for a distracted, disgruntled workforce. “Employees are naturally going to be more stressed and distracted during this time of year,” says Strunk, who notes that her own firm offers time off for Black Friday and even encouraged employees to take advantage of Cyber Monday sales. “People are in the holiday mindset whether you like it or not,” she says. “If you can leverage that opportunity for some good will, it’s a smart move.”

To that end (if business allows) Strunk says extra days off, operating on a flexible schedule or allowing telecommuting particularly during the last week of the year, can be a true gift to employees—especially if they won’t be receiving a bonus in 2012. “The gift of flexibility through the holidays is one that an employer can give that’s extremely low-cost but pays big dividends in employee satisfaction,” Huppman agrees.

Bah Humbug No. 4: All I Want For Christmas Is A Review

“One thing that is seriously lacking in the workplace is positive feedback,” Huppman says, and sending employees into the New Year frustrated and unaware of their value to the company is a serious misstep. Instead, she advises using the holidays as an opportunity for an informal end-of-year review. Too many employers only evaluate an employee’s performance when raise increases are being negotiated, she says—the holidays give an ideal opportunity to separate feedback from financial discussions, which alleviates stress on both sides of the desk.

Holding a review is an opportunity to look back—to celebrate the work each employee has done—and to look forward by laying out corporate goals and the role each employee will play in that success. But overlooking this critical component of management can be a major misstep. “A valued employee is a productive employee,” says Huppman. “People want to know their role and their value within the company.”

Bah Humbug No. 5: (No) Joy to The World

In Dickens’ The Christmas Carol, the curmudgeonly Ebenezer is quick to deny alms to the poor. If your company doesn’t promote charitable giving during the holiday, it just might be a Scrooge. “Giving to charities and organizing food or toy drives helps to get the entire company into the holiday spirit,” says Strunk.

“These traditions encourage camaraderie in a staff at a very low cost,” says Huppman, and they prove that even when money is tight for a company, it can spread goodwill by giving to others who are worse off. “You may not be getting your bonus,” she says, “But a volunteer effort will remind you that you have it pretty good.”


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More Stories By Rodger Roeser

Roeser is the founder, owner and president of The Eisen Agency – Cincinnati’s largest and highest rated Public Relations Firm. He served as the 2005 president of the Cincinnati Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and for several years on its Board of Directors. He is the founder of the chapter’s Blacksmith Awards Program. Roeser is the national chairman of the Public Relations Agency Owners Association, and serves on several boards and committees. He founded The Eisen Agency’s Operation: Outreach program which provides non profit groups professional marketing services pro bono, and he is also the founder of the Rodger Roeser Scholarship Fund, which provides dollars to minority and other graduating high school students seeking to enter a career in journalism or public relations. Roeser is an award winning print, radio and television journalist and has worked in both agency side and corporate side public relations. He is a graduate of Kent State University and holds a degree in broadcast news. He continues to write for a number of publications, and also is the host of the award winning audio podcast “That Marketing Show,” and the host of online webside series Business Focus.