Enforced Holiday Fun Is a 100% Preventable Employee-Morale Issue

I’ve seen many a workplace holiday season come and go, and with another one upon us, I wonder: Why does writing this make me feel like Scrooge lecturing Bob Cratchit?

Here’s the deal: I have worked in lots of offices where some of the staff really got into holiday planning and making sure that everyone was involved in the festivities.

Nothing wrong with that, of course, but one of the problems that crops up during the holiday season time and time again is that all that holiday fun can get in the way of getting real, live work done.

And like it or not, sometimes work has to still get done, holiday season or no.

Sometimes, people DO have to work

Ok, I know I’m a Grinch for writing that, but I’ve seen it happen on a number of occasions. The big holiday party is planned, everyone has brought in food and goodies, and we’re all going to dive in and start celebrating and consuming at noon.

Problem is, the printer just called at 11:45 and they are three time zones away and trying to go to their own party — and they have a problem they need you to fix right now no matter what else you have going on.

The party planners don’t understand this — they’re too busy with the party — but they do have time enough to come by every 5 minutes and bug you with: “aren’t you coming?” or, “don’t you want to eat something?” or worse yet, “we aren’t going to start until you can join us.”

Yes, call me a Scrooge, but I want to have fun just as much as everyone. It’s just that sometimes, forcing people to have fun in the workplace when they have other responsibilities pulling at them can lead to the people with the responsibilities turning Grinchy or Scrooge-like even during the merriest of times.

That’s why I appreciate how Liz Ryan explains this phenomenon over in her HR and management column at Bloomberg Businessweek.

Don’t pressure your employees

Her “five tips to help managers foster some yuletide fellowship without sinking the departmental-objectives boat,” lists “Avoid Forced Fun” as one of the critical things managers should try to stay away from during the holiday season. She writes:

Compulsory fun is a 100 percent preventable employee-morale virus that rages through the workplace at this time of year. Whatever you do as a manager, don’t mandate or otherwise pressure your employees to participate in any holiday events you’ve dreamed up, from drinks after work to the dreaded Secret Santa exercise. Let your employees decide for themselves which, if any, company-sponsored holiday fun they’d like to partake of. If you offer folks a chance to leave the office — for instance, an afternoon at Dave & Buster’s during mid-December — give them the opportunity to go home or go shopping instead. Nothing spells misery like an afternoon of ear-splitting confinement in an arcade hall when you’d rather be doing something else.”

Now, this is slightly different from my issue, but it all falls into the same boat — helping your workers understand that the holidays are a stressful time, and that adding stress and pressure over seasonal activities not only doesn’t help, but it actually can add another wicked layer of stress to what is already a pretty-stressful season.

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Mandating fun isn’t the answer

Avoiding compulsory workplace fun is a great suggestion from Liz Ryan, and as usual, she’s right on the money with her insight.

We all want the holidays to be merry, but cramming fun down someone’s throat isn’t the way to go about it. Sometimes, your co-workers just want to be a Grinch, but it’s more likely that those who aren’t getting involved are feeling pulled by other workplace responsibilities that maybe DO need to get done for the betterment of the business.

You want those people to be engaged and worrying about work all year long, and having well-meaning but sometimes clueless fellow employees/party planners turn up the pressure on them to get involved regardless of that isn’t brightening anyone’s holiday season.

Enforced holiday fun CAN be an “employee morale virus,” as Liz Ryan puts it, and who wants to infect your workforce with that during the busy, stressful, and exciting holiday season?

Yes, sometimes approaching these things with the kindness of Bob Cratchit is the better way to go, even if some of your co-workers sometimes seem more like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Appreciating what they do and throttling down on the enforced fun pressure will make the holiday better for everyone, and maybe, just like Scrooge, they’ll eventually find the time and energy to appreciate the joys of the season on their own terms.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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