Out with the old, in with the few.
By: Anne Hilb
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
This very special season, there seem to be more smiles exchanged between strangers. I notice many stopping to acknowledge folks they might otherwise rush right past, and we have several excuses to pull out our party best.
It seems this year though, we might be all dressed up with nowhere to go. At least not with co-workers.
Despite the economy “running at its fastest pace since before The Great Depression,” writes McIntyre. In fact, only 65 percent of companies are holding a holiday celebration this year—”the lowest percentage since 2009,” observes Patton.
Why might this be in our current bullish economy?
You guessed it. Fear. One very strong motivator if you ask me.
In the era of #metoo, many industries, the organizations and the people within them do not know how to confront the social, political and financial implications of #metoo. This means, of course, that rather than risk a negative incident occurring, many would rather “proactively” eliminate the possibility all together.
It may seem counterintuitive, but this fear and avoidance actually hurts everyone, both now and in the future.
Putting aside for a moment the MANY benefits of a holiday (or any company-wide) celebration that have been eliminated by cancelling the event, let’s first look at a few reasons this choice is also harmful.
What Does All That Eggnog Really Get Us?: The Harmful Effects of a Party-Less Office
Canceled events don’t bode well for morale.
Canceling an event plants the seed that there is an issue in the first place. And let’s face it; likely there is. This does not mean you, your company or its culture are “bad” but that you are humans in a human system. What a relief to know we are not robots! The best news being that you have the capacity to learn to have conversations about what sort of treatment makes everyone feel respected and comfortable.
Eliminating parties doesn’t erase existing problems. It makes them worse.
Avoidance does not mean the challenges of #metoo will not exist when we return to work Monday. The party’s absence only means when we do, we have relinquished one heck of an opportunity to build meaningful, personal relationships that could prove valuable when having difficult conversations about important topics such as values, needs and culture. You may hear many make the case that this is as simple as, “don’t be an asshole,” but the truth is that there is so much more nuance to how people want to be treated.
We know deep down that embracing complexity is scary. What if we are the only one who feels the way we do? It is only natural we might rather remain in our respective corners with at least a few others by our side. Unfortunately, globalization isn’t stopping anytime soon and we need one another to do our best work. This of course means that complexities aren’t going anywhere either. We must discuss the difficult stuff before the simple stuff becomes difficult as a result.
It’s a slippery slope.
If first holiday celebrations; then what next? Several studies show the concern men have in being alone with women is keeping them from mentoring, extending invitations, or consistently calling them up the leadership ranks. This slippery slope has the potential to mudslide into a new kind of old boy’s club and leave women without the support they need to continue to meaningfully contribute. In the end, this hurts everyone.
The Case for Creative Goodwill
Some organizations have gotten creative this year, allowing them to maintain festivities as well as build community and camaraderie in a way that feels more comfortable. This get-together can happen as employees work toward gaining the education they need to be more effective and build a psychologically safe space for all.
Brunches, kid friendly events, volunteering, and sporting events are all possibilities. It is important to know your culture and to seek input from the employees themselves. With remote workers, using technology to connect in is a wonderful option. Many have even chosen to match with community partners that work with domestic violence shelters or sexual assault housing coalitions to volunteer and then attend lunch after debriefing. Though it should be a joyful activity and the employees must want to attend, there are various options to create a powerful experience, express appreciation and to gather in community and good cheer.
No Company Lists Avoidance as a Core Value
When was the last time ignoring a problem resolved it?
Not serving alcohol at company events, avoiding a party or writing harsher policy in a handbook does not change underlying behavior or culture in a positive or powerful, long-term way that creates buy-in.
Certainly, refusing to have dinner with women under a certain age or to book a hotel on the same floor is also not a long-term response. These are all actions made from a place of fear–albeit valid, as is every human being’s construction of their own reality.
By openly addressing issues like sexism and feminism directly with leadership, human resources and fellow employees, there can be both a collective as well as an individual understanding of what each member of your organization’s community believes and how they would like to be treated. As with any complex work, writes Donegan, “it’s not about giving women [or any individual] ‘a seat at the table’. It’s about taking the table apart, so that we can build a new one together.” It is in learning about one another that empathy develops, bonds form and lines of communication improve.
Host the Party, But Cancel the Small Talk
As a member of a free society I count on each sector to play its role in making us that much more innovative, creative, and bold. Society can only do this if we confront what is difficult–even something as seemingly simple as hosting a holiday party, rather than taking the easy route and canceling. The chances are, if something were to happen at a big event, it would be the symptom of a much larger issue; not only systemically but culturally.
So, if you are a leader who cancelled your celebrations this year, I invite you to give some real thought as to why. I would also ask you to consider if the kind of leaders you admire or the kind of leader you want to be would do the same, if they had the option to do it again.
What else might be happening at your organization beneath the surface, (and sometimes right out in the open), that you are weary to address?
What might be possible if you could?
What are the dangers for your people, your goods and services, your bottom line, and your organization if you leave things lurking and they come out on their own?
Don’t wait to find out.
Anne Hilb (She, Her, Hers) is an expert in conflict and connection. As an organization development consultant, trainer and facilitator, she is deeply passionate about inclusion, opening space for difficult conversations, and learning more about groups and individuals.
Anne believes that to know oneself is to be most effective; that people support what they help create and that there is nothing so practical as a good theory. She brings these beliefs to her consulting work where her goal is to always balance relationship-building and problem-solving in order to reach a concrete plan and achieve forward movement.
Running towards conversations other often steer clear of, Anne offers candid observations, her quick wit and genuine curiosity to all looking for a partner in their work.
“Good business is built on solid relationships, so our work is deeply relational,” says Hilb. “That said, let’s get to know one another!”
As you think about your plans — both at work and at home — for the new year, I invite you to learn more about Graymake, LLC and the opportunities we have available for you and your employees. To set up a 30-minute phone chat with a member of our team, sign up here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.