You just walked into work and noticed decorations are up, poinsettias abound and the mood is lighter. Yes, it's holiday time. While this can be an opportunity to share happy tidings and a joyous spirit with your co-workers, there are a few things that will alleviate stress and help keep your career on track these next few weeks.
Things to remember
You are still at work: Even though the mood may be lighter and the atmosphere less formal, the reason you're there hasn't changed. Deadlines must be met, projects completed, meetings held and products and services delivered.
Respect the religious beliefs or nonbeliefs of your co-workers: Not everyone is a Christian and not everyone celebrates Christmas. Other religious groups have other traditions at this time of year and some folks don't celebrate at all.
Avoiding the pitfalls
Here are tips to help you enjoy the season and avoid holiday work stress inducers.
Gift giving: What is your company's policy about giving gifts? Many set a dollar limit on gift giving and others have policies as to the type of gifts exchanged (for example, some say no alcoholic beverages allowed). Follow the rules and this won't be an issue.
Do you draw names for a Secret Santa exchange, or gift associates to show appreciation, or is there a set policy for monetary bonuses? If there's no policy and you want to gift your co-workers, be discreet and exchange gifts in private.
Here are some gift ideas that are gender neutral and may help you:
• Gift cards for restaurants, movies, department stores and music, book or electronic stores.
• Gift cards for specialty items like coffees or teas. Also for popcorn, specialty candies or baked goods (taking into account the recipient's health status and food allergies).
• Gift cards to museums, theaters, parks and local attractions.
Holiday goodies: About.com suggests that you can keep the holiday feeding frenzy to a minimum in the office with just a few preventive measures. Stick to your healthy eating plan by:
• Bringing your own snacks to work so you won't find all the cookies, candies and other goodies so tempting.
• Helping to establish a policy that asks one person a day to provide the decadent delights. Then there's never too much at one time.
• If you wish to bring food in for the group, consider a fruit or cheese and cracker tray.
Office parties: Ah, the office party. It can be a fun time to socialize and a career builder, or it can be a slippery slope to employment disaster.
Here are some tips that will keep you employed and your career on track:
• No matter how relaxed the atmosphere, you are being watched. Your behavior and that of your date, significant other or spouse will be under scrutiny. Gauge your level of relaxation depending on the place, time and circumstances. That doesn't mean you can't be friendly and have a good time, just remember that perception is important and that colleagues and bosses have long memories.
• Your dress: Nothing too revealing or outlandish. Use sequins or jewelry to brighten an outfit, or wear special holiday sweaters, ties and other accessories to the event without going overboard.
• Your alcohol intake: Too much and your judgment, tact and good manners could go out the window. Remember the saying "loose lips sink ships." They can also scuttle careers. This is not the time to dance on tables, make a pass at the co-worker you have a crush on, or tell the boss how you feel about his or her management style!
Keep these tips in mind during the next few weeks and you should enjoy happy holidays at work!
Marie Stempinski is the president and founder of Strategic Communication in St. Petersburg. She specializes in public relations, marketing, business trends and employee motivation consulting. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.