Spare a thought: Supporting colleagues at Christmas
It’s the most wonderful time of the year… for most of us.
While the majority of people are decorating the tree, stringing up lights and indulging in work buffets, not everyone has that luxury in December. We’re not talking about the well-known downside of Christmas, e.g. abandoned animals, or the increase in homelessness. The fact is we all know there are people less fortunate than us. But sometimes these issues can feel ‘too big’ for any one person to tackle. Something we can individually help with, are the issues that often go under the radar amid the festivities.
Now, we’re by no means ignoring these wider issues (keep reading to find out what Benefex is doing to help), but it’s important to consider those outside the charity circles, too. Not everyone has the time to volunteer, or the resources to donate, but that doesn’t mean they cannot help. Around Christmas, many people may be unable (or not want) to celebrate. Among these people you will find your employees, and your colleagues. So how can you help them?
In general, at Christmastime, there’s a number of reasons why people may be unable to celebrate…
They may be working. Around the world, countless employees work on Christmas Day. They work on Christmas Eve, and Boxing Day, and New Year’s, too. From the emergency services to hospitality workers and helplines – all the people we interact with when we’re out of work (and this includes non-holiday times, too!) are giving up their holiday traditions, so they can pay their bills.
They may struggle with mental health. Winter is a difficult time for people who suffer with mental illness. Seasonal Affective Disorder is widely known as affecting people during Winter, but other mental illnesses are also commonly exacerbated by the darker days and early nights. Not to mention, the holidays’ emphasis on things like food, parties and drinking can make them difficult for those with eating disorders or anxiety.
They may have lost a loved one. For those who have lost a close friend or family member, Christmas can bring back a lot of memories. The emphasis on spending time with loved ones is a constant reminder, and traditions or social events can emphasise their missing presence. So, if a co-worker doesn’t want to celebrate this year, don’t pry – just accept that, and support them in other ways, such as a kind word or reassuring offer to talk if they’d like.
They may not celebrate because of culture or religion. Despite the emphasis on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, we still have a long way to go. One prominent example is how we celebrate holidays. If a colleague isn’t interested in partaking, they are considered strange. But we should work to develop a culture where people can be open about not celebrating, and still be included. Or equally, they can choose to opt out, without being bombarded by questions about why.
They may not be close to their family. A final reason to consider is that some people may not be close with their family. For instance, almost 40% of LGBTQ+ people are ostracised by their family, and may feel unwanted or left out at Christmas. Others may benefit from not seeing their families, or have cut ties because of abuse or conflicting views. Perhaps they just aren’t close. Even for those who will see family, some will be subjected to rejection or hurtful experiences.
So how can we help?
Whether someone has lost a loved one, doesn’t celebrate due to their religion, or has no family to go home to – Christmas is a great opportunity for us to practice the inclusion that we preach. Social media management company, Buffer, is a great example of this with their Inclusive Holiday Policy – this allows their employees to select and switch time off based on their own religion, culture and beliefs, so they can celebrate the events that matter to them.
But just because someone does not necessarily celebrate Christmas, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to. (Though, equally, we must respect those who don’t want to). Give your colleague a Christmas card, ask them to join your quiz team, offer to sit with them at the work party. Consider those working over the holidays, be sensitive that they may not want to hear all about your social plans. For your co-workers who don’t celebrate, it’s okay to still ask what they’re doing over the festive period – just as you’d ask anyone their weekend plans!
Spare a thought for those who are unable to celebrate – who are manning a helpline and sacrificing seeing their children’s nativity; who are skipping family dinner to drive an ambulance; who are serving you at a restaurant and missing their baby’s first Christmas. Wish them a ‘Happy Christmas’, say ‘thank you’, ask how they are, leave a big tip etc. Show them that you recognise their hard work, and appreciate it.
What are Benefex doing?
At Benefex, all our festivities are optional. People can join in with the work party, quiz or competitions as and when they like. There’s no obligation to take part, and no objections if you don’t! Above all, those who don’t want to take part (for whatever reason) are still given the option, and still get to enjoy the perks – like an advent calendar on their desk!
We’ve also switched out our usual Christmas raffle for one big charity donation, and our Christmas Quiz winners get an additional donation to their chosen charity. While prizes are great, changing to donations has been popular with everyone – the festivities live on, and can also benefit deserving causes. We’re also taking part in Wave 105’s ‘Mission Christmas’ and have collected four ‘Santa sacks’ of gifts for children to open on Christmas Day. Finally, we’ve been donating clothes, food and other items to our office charity – the Society of St. James’ – in the Reverse Advent Calendar.
Whether you show your support through a charity donation, inviting a co-worker to Christmas lunch or just being kind to a waiter – this year, when you’re shutting down your computer on Friday 21st, spare a thought for those around you who may not get to do the same.
If you want to do more this year, it doesn’t have to be limited to Christmas. The Give As You Earn benefit is a wonderful way for employees and employers alike to give back (tax free) to chosen charities each month.
Lorelei is an avid proponent of iced coffee, video games and anything to do with outerspace.
Copywriter by day, filmmaker by night – Lorelei graduated from university with a degree in Film and Screenwriting, and continues to write and direct films with their production company.
When not at work, you can probably stumble upon Lorelei buying overpriced cold brew in a hipster coffee shop while editing a screenplay or rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the 100th time.