Career Coach: Putting an end to office gift-giving

December 22, 2013

Career Coach Joyce E.A. Russell took questions from readers online recently, and dispensed a little advice for the holidays. Here are excerpts, edited for grammar and clarity.

Office gifts

Q: I feel obligated to give everyone in my department a small token holiday gift because I’ve done so every year — and everyone else does it. But the department is just way too big now to make it practical. We already do a Secret Santa gift exchange. How do I not give out gifts to everyone but not feel guilty?

Russell: This is a very real and tough issue that many folks are facing. One thing you can do is write a personalized note to each person thanking them for their unique contributions. While it does not involve money (and would save you in costs), it could serve the effect you want by “touching” each person to let them know they matter to the firm and to you.

Another possibility is to bring up this issue when you have a group meeting to see how others feel about the issue. You may be surprised to find that others also agree with you and would rather stop the small gifts in lieu of some fun community events (maybe the group goes out to lunch or bowling or something else that they can all enjoy).

Stop the guilty gift giving

Q: I proposed the office focus the same money and energy on sponsoring a needy family instead.

Russell: Great idea! More and more firms are doing this, and people are feeling better about engaging in these types of giving programs. That old adage about “giving feels better than receiving” is often true.

Thanks for reminding us!

I often get asked how to throw a holiday party without spending a lot of money. Is it even possible? It might be important to watch costs for a number of reasons, including the fact that the firm might be undergoing budget cuts, or there are reductions in salaries or head count. When this is the case, having an expensive holiday party sends the wrong signal and can get employees upset who may see a better use for that money.

So, what’s a firm to do? You could have the event at lunchtime or breakfast to save on food (and eliminate alcohol, which is costly). Also, employees often appreciate holding an event during the work day so that they can still go home and spend time with their families.

If your firm wants to celebrate the holiday season, but doesn’t want to have an office party, what else can it do? Many firms have come up with other creative options to celebrate the season with their employees.

How about having a cookie or pie bake-off and invite employees to bring in their special baked goods to share with each other? Let them choose a few judges to give out fun awards (best appearance, best aroma, best taste). Another idea: Close up work early to host games for the afternoon — could be board games, sports competitions, casino games or table tennis. Maybe you set up space in your lobby or another large area for people to play. A few festive decorations could add to the appeal. Another idea that has been gaining in popularity is the ugly sweater contest, in which everyone wears their holiday sweaters and sweatshirts to work. People often love to be comfortable and casual at work and this gives them the chance to do this.

There are many possible alternatives to a holiday party that might get employees jazzed up about the firm and spending time with their colleagues. Just make sure to use an employee committee to help plan it.

Job search

Q: I graduated college in May and was able to secure a job right after graduation. However, after six months it is clear that this career/industry are not for me. I always hear that you should stay at a job at least a year, but at this point I don’t see that happening and have already begun applying for new jobs. What’s the best way to approach this question when it inevitably comes up in interviews in the future?

Russell: It is not critical that you stay in a job for one year exactly. What is important is that you can explain why you left so soon. In today’s climate, it is less of an issue to move to various firms, as long as those moves are advancements or can show progress of some sort.

You said the career is not for you, so I am assuming you are trying something new. As long as you can give a reason for why you are trying a new area and perhaps can show how it is somewhat related to the previous area, this will help. Maybe it is more related than you think. Ask someone to review your résuméto see how you are positioning yourself in the market.

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