The holidays can be a tough time to be the boss. You want to celebrate the season with your employees. And you know this season is a great time to connect with the people who work with you and increase their engagement and commitment to face the challenges of 2014.
Unfortunately, even a well-meaning holiday gesture can backfire, according to Vicky Oliver, author of "301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions." The holidays are a time to either build or lower morale, she adds, and you can cause yourself grief if you don't keep that in mind.
Here are seven things you should make sure not to do in the lead-up to the holidays.
1. Lay people off.
You've finally finished preparing your budget for 2014 and faced an unpleasant reality: You have to make some staff cuts. Your instinct is to let the affected people know right away. That will give them a chance to plan and watch their own budgets. Besides, if you don't tell them right away you'll feel like a dishonest heel every time you talk to them.
Too bad. Keep your mouth shut about reductions until after the holidays, Oliver advises. This time of year is stressful enough for most employees, so something like a layoff will hurt morale more now than it will in a couple of weeks. Not only that, you'll have deprived affected employees of a relaxed, happy holiday break with their loved ones--and they won't be able to effectively seek new employment till after the first of the year in any case. "If you possibly can delay until after the holidays, do it," Oliver says.
2. Have too much gift-giving.
In some companies, all employees give presents to each other, but that can create a financial strain. You can help by creating a Secret Santa tradition where each employee gives a gift to one randomly selected colleague.
3. Give impersonal or unequal gifts.
You know some of your employees very well, while others are virtual strangers. You may be tempted to give nicer gifts to the people you know but don't give in to that temptation. "As a general rule, try to spend roughly the same amount on each gift," Oliver advises. "Beyond that, think about what you know of people's hobbies or where they like to shop."
If you're stuck giving generic gifts, such as a nice pen, accompany each gift with a handwritten note thanking them for their hard work. "Even 'It's been great working with you this year,' goes a long way," Oliver says.
The same goes for holiday cards, she adds: Send them to all employees, or none.
4. Skip out.
The holidays are an ultra-busy time, so it makes sense for you to take a little time off for Christmas shopping or other preparations. You've earned it and after all, you're the boss, right? But before you leave for the afternoon, ask yourself what effect it'll have on those stuck at the office. "If your choosing not to be there makes someone else's burden worse, consider that," Oliver says.
5. Send people to too many parties.
You need to connect with potential clients, investors, and other important contacts. So you make sure that you and your key employees attend as many holiday parties as possible. While it's certainly a good idea to network at these events, you risk burning out your staff if you force them to make merry too many times. "You want to have one great holiday party, not make everyone work overtime over the holidays, going to client events," Oliver says.
6. Be overly religious.
For many people, holiday time--and Christmas in particular--is the time of year when they renew and reaffirm their faith. That's fine, but as a company's leader, you must be sensitive to the fact that some employees subscribe to other religions, or no religion. So unless your company does something like manufacture rosary beads or buddha statues, don't indulge in religious displays or sentiments. A Christmas tree is usually fine, but beyond that, "Your office is not your personal lawn," Oliver says.
7. Get too merry--or too grinchy.
You may be someone who loves the holidays. You spend time with your family and gather around the table for a delicious feast. How could anyone hate this time of year?
Consider your employee who's recently divorced and is spending the first holiday season alone. Or the one who has never gotten along with other family members and dreads the holiday gathering.
Everyone feels different about holiday time, and you should respect that whole spectrum of sentiments. It works both ways: You may hate the holidays yourself, but some of the people who work with you will delight in them, so "Bah, humbug!" isn't an appropriate attitude either.
The ideal is something in between. "You want to achieve a neutral zone," Oliver says.
Like this post? Sign up here for Minda's weekly email and you'll never miss her columns.