Spend 10 minutes with each person who reports to you and ask them how they are doing. Too tall an order? I don’t think so.
It’s the holiday season, a time when workplace thoughts drift to the trappings of materialism.
We ponder office gifts, client gifts, secret Santas, gifts for bosses (fruitcakes for bad bosses) and knickknacks for kind co-workers.
Before you start shopping, let me share these words from the always wise Dr. Seuss, relating to the Grinch’s realization that the Whos down in Whoville didn’t need gifts to celebrate:
“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”
We forget this, often. Replace “Grinch” with “the boss” or “the employee” and “Christmas” with a more inclusive “the holidays” and you have something people in workplaces everywhere should consider.
We all can survive without another coffee mug. Or a $5 Starbucks gift card. Or a gag gift, or even a thoughtful but reasonably priced present from a boss or co-worker.
What we all really want at work — even if we overlook it or refuse to admit it — is some kindness. Some attention. A little feedback that lets us know we’re doing something right.
(I realize some of you are frowning at these words and thinking, “Shut up, Huppke, I want that darn gift card!” I get that, but try to take the long view on things. And no, you can’t hold me financially responsible if this column does away with your gift cards.)
My suggestion this year is that rather than spend time shopping for gifts for employees or bosses or co-workers, we consider gestures of holiday kindness.
I offer the following ideas:
Cancel some meetings. There are too many (expletive that doesn’t conform to the holiday spirit of this column) meetings. I’ve warned you guys over and over that most meetings are unnecessary, yet you schedule them like there’s a prize for whoever calls people together the most.
Try offering your employees get-out-of-a-meeting-free cards they can use when they feel their presence is truly unnecessary. Sounds cheesy, yes, but showing people you trust them to use their time wisely carries some weight.
Or expand that gift by promising a more careful approach to meetings in the new year. That’s simple: Each time you think you need to call a meeting, assume you’re wrong. Then ask yourself these questions: Can I just do this via email or a conference call? Who absolutely has to be there? What is the key objective of this meeting and how can we get in and out as quickly as possible?
That’s a gift that keeps on giving.
Spend 10 minutes with each person who reports to you. Too tall an order? I don’t think so.
Say you have 12 people under you. That’s only about two hours of your time. Then you tell those people to spend 10 minutes with each person they supervise, and so on.
This isn’t a performance review and it shouldn’t be canned conversation. Sit down with employees and ask how they’re doing. Find out what’s going right. Ask what’s going wrong. Show that you give a darn.
It’s not much, and it doesn’t have to be painful or awkward. We’re all moving so fast that we rarely get a moment outside of a performance review to sit one-on-one and check in with a supervisor. People value that opportunity.
Give it to them.
Send a co-worker a note. We don’t appreciate each other as much as we should. When someone does something well at work, she or he might get a quick “nice work” or a pat on the back, but rarely do we acknowledge a colleague’s overall goodness.
Instead of buying that colleague a desktop Zen garden in a box, write a nice email and explain, with some specific examples, why you value that person.
Unsolicited kindness is rare. But always welcome.
Pledge to improve something about yourself. Humility matters, and it can bring people together. Maybe instead of an officewide secret Santa you could consider asking everyone to commit to one item of self-improvement.
This is best if it comes from the top. A leader willing to admit to a fault and pledge to work on it is a leader giving permission to others to do the same. That’s a powerful gesture. And if you can’t think of a fault to offer up, look harder. We’ve all got ‘em.
Do something good for others. Our office holiday gatherings often look inward. That’s not necessarily bad, but reaching out to people outside the office can unite workers in unexpected ways.
Instead of a holiday potluck, ask people to bring in food and then form teams to deliver that food to pantries or, better yet, directly to people in need. (Finding those families isn’t hard. Call a church or track down a social worker or community activist. They’ll know where help is needed.)
Instead of a gift exchange, send everyone off to volunteer at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Visit kids in the hospital or help out at a senior center.
These are true gifts. They aren’t things you get and then force a smile. They don’t get stuffed away in a drawer and forgotten about.
These are actions that bring workplaces together and make us appreciate each other.
And that, as the Grinch learned, means a little bit more than the contents of packages, boxes and bags.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.