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The Holiday Party

Dec 20th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Nick KemperIt’s that time of year — Holiday Party time. The time of year when you revisit time-honored traditions such as forgetting to reserve a space for the Holiday Party until nothing is available beyond the corner booth at the local Denny’s, so you end up setting up folding chairs in the shop because “it’s so cozy.” I’ve attended enough of these shindigs that I can’t even remember who drank too much to remember what they did at the party. I’ve heard elderly and revered industry leaders secure the microphone and tell base, ethnic jokes. I’ve placed bets on when bosses will visit the restroom to hug the commode. And I’ve enjoyed some heartwarming moments as well.

One year after I had switched companies, shortly before the holiday party, one of our managers quit without notice. I had been given some “management” tasks, and she thought that ownership was going to give me her job, so she got angry and quit. Then they gave me her job. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecy. The funny thing was when I got my Christmas “gift” from the owners: a package of sweets clearly intended for her. The funnier thing was she had asked if she could come to the party after quitting, so I got to hold up her gift and show her what she gave up.

Another year, our owners decided to give away a free weekend in Reno – airfare, hotel and meals. There was some kind of casino games, I think, and people won tickets that were entered into the drawing. I didn’t get any tickets – didn’t think it would be right for one of the managers to win. Guess who won? My wife. She had a rather tempestuous relationship with the owners, so she got up and did a victory dance.

When I started managing drivers and dispatchers, I wanted to recognize the rank-and-file at the holiday party, so I started giving out “Trench Awards.” A Trench Award celebrated a year in the trench, and could only be given to a front-line worker. Our company had a military theme, so it fit in well. As employees continued to persevere through multiple years of service, I would add stars to the certificates I gave out, and what happened was that these simple awards – a piece of paper in a plastic display – became some of the most treasured symbols of recognition that employees valued. I usually said a few words about each employee, and they usually had had a drink or two by then, so it often became an emotional mess. The year I left the company, when I had grown bitter and tired and decided to not give out the Trench Awards, I really found out how much they meant to the employees. They let me know, in no uncertain terms, how disappointed they were.

Gift exchanges were always a point of escalating conflict. I tried to stay out of it. I did win a nice pool cue one year, which I’ve yet to use. I can remember some heated arguments about Hot Wheels cars, including yelling in foreign languages. Ah, nothing like the gift of giving to bring out the true feelings that employees have been repressing about each other for 12 months.

Wherever I happen to be working, I always encourage my employer to have a holiday party, even if it’s a low-key, on-site affair. You’re always going to have people who criticize the idea, who complain about the food, who pretend to not care about going, and who prop a door open halfway and smoke with one foot inside the room, but it’s not those people who the party is for. Like most positive things you try to do for your workers, the holiday party is for the small percentage who appreciate the gesture and who care about the other people they work with. Be sure, as you mingle, to notice how much those people are smiling, because that’s your award. And you deserve it.

Have a safe and merry Holiday Season.

Nick Kemper