The figure of Ebenezer Scrooge looms large at this time of year. Charles Dickens’ most famous character is also the most famous Christmastime boss, and a yardstick of sorts for the rest of us.
Needless to say, it’s a comparison few would like to earn. But getting leadership right over the holiday period is a little trickier than just giving Bob Cratchitt from accounts a free reign over the office thermostat. Here are three basic principles.
Keep the spirits up
Christmas is a time of mass unwinding that is simultaneously frantic; cheery but also gushingly sentimental. The reason for this fascinating psychology eludes me, but in practical terms the release of emotion creates a unique opportunity to build morale and strengthen the bonds between colleagues.
That’s why skimping on the work Xmas do is rarely a good idea. People value – and to some extent expect – a little generosity from their employer.
This could be mince pies and a Secret Santa, or the free food that John Lewis is offering staff for the entire trading period, to help them through the cost of living crisis. If it’s well-meant and well-judged, staff will reward you for it.
Not everyone celebrates Christmas. For some people it’s a religious holiday that they don’t observe, while for others it’s just not a happy time at home for them. This doesn’t mean you can’t ask people if they have any plans for the break, but try not to make assumptions.
Similarly, a lot of families are enduring financial hardship, so if you have a few days skiing booked with friends in an Alpine chalet – à la the kitsch video for Wham’s Last Christmas – you might want to avoid broadcasting it.
More importantly, you might also want to think about how the company can meaningfully support its people with their financial wellbeing (see the JLP food package, which also includes interest-free loans and a bonus).
Leadership clearly isn’t just about morale. In sectors that tail off towards December 25th, there’s also a need to maintain a sense of urgency in people’s work, perhaps by targeting important matters that may get postponed in busier periods.
In retail and hospitality, where there is a mad dash to mid-January, the opposite is required: to temper urgency with calm resolve.
In any case, there is a balancing act for those in charge, between lifting spirits and maintaining delivery, and between giving people collective experiences without excluding anybody.
This isn’t easy, but it’s what leaders sign up for. Try to talk to people, to take the pulse of how they’re feeling. Lean into your HR team, who should have a keen understanding of people’s morale, workloads and wellbeing.
Lastly, be kind to yourself. Scrooge was not a happy bunny, and he took it out on everyone else. If there’s even a slim chance that’s you, cutting yourself some slack could end up being a great Christmas present for the whole team.