If you’ve sat in any of my training sessions or speeches and it’s getting anywhere near Christmas, you’ve heard me give one of my favourite lines from comedian, Phyllis Diller. She said, “What I don’t like about office Christmas parties, is looking for a job the next day.” I love that line and often think about Ms. Diller who died in August of last year.
For many years now, clients ask me to talk about the office Christmas party, even when I’m giving a seminar in let’s say, September. Many workplaces have had such disasters that they feel an outside hired gun like me needs to get it through people’s heads not to drink so much, or if they do, keep a lid on their comments and their hands.
Many years ago, in late spring, I was called upon to talk to partners of a big Canadian law firm. They wanted to get a heads-up on their upcoming Christmas festivities, even though this was the season where people had visions not of sugar plums, but margaritas on the beach, dancing in their heads. I was told that a junior lawyer almost quit after “Mr. Wandering Hands” worked his magic on the dance floor during a slow dance at the previous year’s Christmas party. He was one of the most senior partners of the firm, with a lot of clout, so the power imbalance would clearly discourage even the most confident employee from taking real action, other than quitting.
Since I was asked to speak to the partners (not about this specifically, but in general terms to “change with the times”), I wanted to know how they handled the situation with the senior partner who clearly should have known better. I was told no one had yet said anything to him even after all these months, but they had a plan. I swear to you, this is what I was told: “Don’t worry. We’ve got it figured out. At this year’s Christmas party we’ve already told the DJ: “No slow dances”.
While we should expect better from lawyers (after all, they are the ones who would tell their clients those very behaviours could get them in big legal trouble), they aren’t the only ones who get into trouble around Christmas time. Take for example a couple Canadian politicians…
On Sunday, Nova Scotia Liberal MLA Joachim Stroink, tweeted a picture of himself at a Dutch Christmas event in Halifax. In Dutch tradition, there’s this character named Zwarte Piet, who is a companion or helper of Sinterklass, the Dutch equivalent of Santa Clause. The fact that Mr. Piet is black-faced, doesn’t seem to be causing too much concern in The Netherlands because he’s still prominent in their festivities, but here in Canada, it tends to be greatly discouraged as it’s connected to the stereotypical portrayal of African Americans from days gone by. There are many prominent entertainers who appeared blackface decades ago, so it’s not like everyone knew or knows it’s an insult to African Americans or African Canadians. But in Nova Scotia, with a substantial Black population and a history of racism from not-too-many years ago, it’s important for Canadians, and especially politicians to keep up with the times.
Then there’s the guy who wants to be Premier of Manitoba…Opposition Leader Brian Pallister. Last week he was responding to a young person who caught him in the halls of the Manitoba legislature, asking what he does for Christmas. In the recording on YouTube, the Progressive Conservative leader wished “Natalie” and others well. In trying to include everyone, he said, "All you infidel atheists out there, I want to wish you the very best also…" Now technically infidel is a term to mean non-believers, but it has also been used in a much more negative way. Not just from the few whacko Muslim terrorists who want to rid the world of non-Muslims, but also by Christians who aren’t happy with non-believers.
Of course, one interesting thing: According to the 2011 Census, 26.5% of Manitobans said they have no religious affiliation, slightly higher than the national average of 24%. That doesn’t mean they’re all atheists, but it also doesn’t mean they’re necessarily big “believers” either. So as a politician, and a Christian, Mr. Pallister might want to be careful with the words he uses for non-believers.
Now of course, with politicians Joachim Stroink and Brian Pallister, booze wasn’t a factor in their behaviours and comments, so perhaps it’s not just the Christmas parties that get people in trouble. It’s really more about keeping up with the times.
So if I can sum up, when it comes to Christmas, keeping up with the times means:
• Woman no longer have to put up with wandering hands, lips or other body parts just to recognize the birth of Jesus Christ;
• Giving critical thought to traditions that in other countries, don’t translate well in Canada;
• Choosing words that don’t make up to ¼ of our population feel insulted just because they don’t believe what you believe.
So to paraphrase someone just as famous as Phyllis Diller, I think I can safely say, that’s some of what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.
Today's skill testing question: Watching a Charlie Brown Christmas every year was something you didn’t miss as a kid. At least in my neighbourhood. Christmas traditions are very important, even if they’re of the TV kind. The first person who can tell me the full name of the character who said, “That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown”, will win a copy of my book, Managing Human Rights at Work: 101 practical tips to prevent human rights disasters.
Last skill testing question: Although I had loads of people read my last newsletter, not one person answered correctly that it was Rene Levesque's death on November 1, 1987 that took a number of people by surprise. Does this mean I have to give two books away this time??
Respectful Workplace in a Box - Just an update...the first batch of binders were sent to Canadian workplaces across the country. If you're still interested, the discounted promotion comes to a close at the end of December, 2013. If you want to learn more, email me or click on the icon below.
This blog: http://www.humanrightseachday.com/
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Stephen Hammond, B.A., LL.B., CSP, is a lawyer-turned professional speaker. He’s written two books, Managing Human Rights at Work: 101 practical tips to prevent human rights disasters and Steps in the Rights Direction: 365 human rights celebrations and tragedies that inspired Canada and the world. Managing Human Rights at Work can be purchased on his website www.StephenHammond.ca He also has a new Harassment Training Manual called "Respect in a Box", with information found here.
copyright - Stephen Hammond - “What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day”