How Millennials Can Successfully Navigate Company Culture During The Holidays

The following appeared in Forbes on December 13, 2016, and features comments from OperationsInc CEO David Lewis. To view the original, please click here

by Wes Gay

forbes-logo-smallCompanies actively seek ways to increase employee engagement. Whether it’s a better coffee bar or paid paternity leave, businesses realize the powerful impact these benefits have on employee engagement. This issue is increasingly important, as Gallup reports 70% of the American workforce is disengaged at work.

Some companies host picnics or parties throughout the year to celebrate holidays or milestones. These vary from company to company, and not all companies offer them.

But December is different. The office holiday party, and other holiday-themed events, are common in nearly every business. Whether it’s a dinner party, gift exchange, or “tacky sweater day,” companies often celebrate the holiday season in unique ways.

While the season can be fun, successfully navigating the unique holiday culture in their company can be tricky. Millennials are most likely to blur the boundary between work and personal relationships, as noted in a 2014 LinkedIn study.

For examples, millennials are more likely to text their boss after hours about a non-work issue than Baby Boomers. And millennials are more likely to share personal details with coworkers than other generations.

Companies work hard to find and keep great talent, but it must be talent worth keeping. Successfully navigating holiday traditions at work can be a positive boost for your career, but unsuccessfully doing it can be disastrous.

So what does it take to win at work during this season? I interviewed David Lewis, President/CEO of OperationsInc, one of the Northeast’s largest Human Resources Outsourcing and Consulting firms. He is a 30 year HR professional and a subject matter expert in the areas of human resources, workplace management, and small business issues.

Wes Gay: Do you need to buy your boss a gift?

David Lewis: There is a need to think this through before getting one…or not. No good deed goes unpunished, but what do you get? Do you look like you are brown nosing by doing so? How much is too much? How much is too cheap? What is too personal a gift? Overall the giving of a gift to a boss usually creates more angst and awkwardness in my view so I vote you not do it.

Gay: What about coworker gifts?

Lewis: Coworker gifts have some of the same issues attached, but mostly the resulting Quid Pro Quo. If you know there are gift giving coworkers around, be prepared to return the favor, and if you initiate be prepared for possible awkwardness bordering on faint resentment when you give one to someone who has nothing for you.

Gay: What should you not do at the holiday party?

Business colleagues drinking champagne and exchanging presents o


  • Dance provocatively
  • Drink too much
  • Hug people you normally don’t hug
  • Interrupt others who are talking to your boss / CEO so you can introduce yourself, etc.
  • Aggressively pursue people in power for a conversation
  • Ask a co-worker out on a date

Gay: How do you balance time off during the holidays?

Lewis: If the boss gives specific instructions to “unplug” during time off then listen…and unplug. Otherwise I suggest a system designed to keep you available, but not in a mode where you are constantly checking your email. Tell those most likely to need you to do the following: 1) Email you about any issues. 2) Text you when something is critical that you need to look at and address.

This approach means you can leave the phone in your pocket/bag vs. constantly checking email.

  • If you are working remotely, and you normally do not:
  • Let all know of your plan.
  • Instant Messenger is the best way to initially stay in touch or contact, assuming you have this.
  • Keep some structure to your day so that your associates know when / where to reach you.
  • If you are working less hours than usual or just mostly not working, but keeping tabs, let your associates know as well.

Gay: What is the protocol for contributing to the company charity pool?

Lewis: Charitable donations are a personal choice, unless of course the message from someone in influence is ” I believe in this charity and you should contribute – hint hint, nudge nudge”, in which case it would be politically wise to do so, especially when they promote who has donated.

What about the holiday party? When possible, go to the holiday party. When these go well it is a chance to connect with your co-workers in a more casual and relaxed setting. Skipping it usually is noticed, and you may feel significantly left out and excluded when the discussion the next day is about an event you now wish you attended.