Now begins a glorious time (at least in America): the holiday season at work. Today is that joy of joys, “the day before Thanksgiving.” Everyone claims to be working hard — “Got so many projects here, Jason!” — but in reality, not a soul will be in an office by 2pm. We’re transitioning to family, friends, fun, food, and alcohol. I am sorry I could not make that sentence more alliterative.
Most of us will be back Monday, and then the holiday season is truly in full swing. You’ve got the week of November 28th, the week of December 5th, the week of December 12th, and then you’re really chasing it. We all know the week of December 19th will be a total joke — out of office messages as far as the eye can see — but we’ll still tell everyone within earshot how slammed we are. We should (relative to religion) be in church with our families. Instead, many of us will worship at The Temple of Busy.
And therein lies my one wish for the holiday season: let’s reduce the chest-pounding this year, yes?
The holiday season at work: The realities
I worked every holiday season from 2004 until 2015 in an office; last year within the holiday season I had just gotten canned, so I mostly sat around, drank, and felt sorry for myself. That was a productive time! I digress.
In those 11 years of holiday parties and red-and-green-tinted happy hours, I learned one major thing. Work is a lot slower during the holiday season. People sneak out earlier. There are more events. It’s just a different vibe. In its own way, so is the summer. One of the best synonyms for “summer Friday,” in fact, is “throwing yourself on the cross.”
So in between these parties, happy hours, recitals, office Christmas parties (don’t get me started there), and the like … work is slower. Family and friends seem to mean more. Deliverables seem to mean less. This varies by job — in those 11 years I never worked in an Amazon fulfillment center, no — and it is true that oftentimes there are many boxes to check at the end of a year. But let’s not lie to ourselves. We’ve all worked white-collar office jobs during the holiday season. It’s not as frenetic as we want to claim.
And yet, we all seek relevance. We don’t want to be seen as incompetent. So even as we’re six Sam Adams Winter Lagers deep at the holiday party, we pound our chests. We talk about the quantity of work on our plates — how “busy” or “slammed” we are. We all do this.
This year, let’s stop.
The holiday season and work-life balance
By this point in business evolution, we’ve made work-life balance into a complete buzzword. Execs hear it and think, “Work less? But there are targets to hit.” Regular employees hear it and say, “But I have 19,221 emails to get through.” No one believes it’s possible. It is, actually — and when you do it right, it’s a strategic advantage. Unfortunately, most companies miss that. Let’s not dive down that rabbit hole.
But let me give you two scenarios. In (1), you tell your boss “I need to duck out for this thing.” You say the same thing in scenario (2). The difference is that (1) is December 13 and (2) is, I dunno, March 21st. In which situation is your boss more likely to say “Oh yea, go for it?” I would guess (1), because again — the holiday season is different.
By “different” in this case, I mean it’s a rare time you can fully ride or die with work-life balance — and less people will get up in your shit as a result. We need to embrace this. Leave at 4pm. Hit holiday parties. Volunteer with needy kids. Live a fuller life. Don’t just be a target-smoking drone. This is your time of year. Be a complete person, as opposed to a KPI chest-pounder. I know you have it in you.
The holiday season and fiscal year close/bonuses
This might happen at your office, and yes, it’s ripping America apart. Remember that America has no idea what “value” is. We pay guys who throw dead pigs 100s of millions, and we pay schoolteachers about $37,000 — yet we claim their work is “noble” and “about the future.” Bonus pay, and salaries in general, kinda work the same way. We claim to reward revenue streams, and some companies do. In reality, we reward the personalities of the people at the top. They’re big! Brash! They hit targets! They eat what they kill! It’s all part of the high achiever myth. The Electoral College just swallowed that fish whole as well. We’re all guilty.
So yes, seeing some jamoke who does nothing all week but take no-priority meetings get a fat bonus during the holiday season sucks. But hey, not your monkey or your circus. And even more reason to go hang out with family and friends!
The bottom line on the holiday season
We love to over-complicate work. Running people in circles on Chinese fire drills is legitimately fun for a lot of people who become managers. There’s a lot of chest-pounding and turf-protection. “Don’t come near my perch,” a middle manager sneers, “or I’ll undercut you so fast it’ll make your head spin.” As UPenn has pointed out, some equate white-collar, first-world work to chimp rape — and honestly, that’s not super far off.
But the holiday season is different. You can slow it down. Reflect. We all need that after 2016, right? So stop pounding your chest, pull your head out of Outlook’s ass, and volunteer with a charity. Call up an old friend. Make a list of 2017 goals. Respond to 2016, instead of reacting to it.
This is the glory of the holiday season at work.