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Gather Round

by Jocelyn Plakas-Lock ASEBP | December 21 2017 | 2 Comments

As decorations go up around our office—and our annual Santas Anonymous fundraiser in full swing—I can’t help but reflect on how our approach to the holidays can contribute to workplace wellness.

Holidays provide a natural point for us to gather, provided we balance our festivities in such a way that we create comradery, inclusiveness and spirit without contributing to the stress of the season. So how does one do that, you might ask? I had to ask too, so I began surveying everyone from my daughter's teachers to friends and colleagues around the province. Here is what they shared:

  • Create a Christmas cheer challenge. Lorna Muise, from Alberta Health Services, recalls one of her favourite holiday memories. “Each school received a list of random challenges to bring cheer into the school…say hi to five people, wipe the snow off of someone’s car or call someone you love. I was at the district office for a meeting and staff members were decorating the tree. One of the decorators selected a challenge from a bowl on the receptionist’s desk: listen to some Christmas music. The superintendent came out of his office and chose a challenge: go caroling with friends or neighbours. The group broke out in laughter then started singing. It brought tears to my eyes to see this come to life and do exactly what we had hoped for—create cheer!”
  • Give to the community. “Our staff does a spin on the traditional 'Secret Santa' activity. We still pull someone’s name from a hat but we buy a toy we think they would have played with as a child. We have a potluck lunch where everyone opens their gift, has a laugh at what they got, then guesses who bought for them. After lunch, all of the gifts are rounded up and donated to local charities, including Santas Anonymous and the Ronald McDonald House,” shares Lindsay, a teaching consultant.
  • Give to each other. Jennifer, a teacher, notes, “Covering a colleague’s outdoor supervision on a cold day while they go have a break in the staff room is a pretty amazing gift, especially the last week of school! Also, surprising a colleague with a hot tea or coffee is easy to do and always appreciated.”
  • Help colleagues find ways to see and take pride in the difference they make. As Jennifer, a music teacher, noted, “Normally as the conductor of an elementary choir, I have my back to the audience during performances. I gave two students the opportunity to be the choreography conductors and I was able to watch the parents' reactions to their children. I saw the parents' faces light up—smiles galore—all laughing as they watched the humorous show tune about snowmen. There's nothing better than seeing your own child happy and making music on stage. A close second is watching children beam excitement, pride and joy from the stage and see their enthusiasm mirrored back from their proud parents.”
  • Celebrate with each other. Kendra, a teacher, reflects, “With less than 25 staff members, we work in an environment where collaboration and teamwork isn't an option—it’s a must! It’s unique, too, because we’re all colleagues but also friends. With such a small and tight-knit staff, I find that holiday celebrations are intimate and genuine. We are welcomed into someone's home, gather in a different setting and enjoy the company and each other’s cooking.”
  • Keep it going year round. Thoughtfulness, appreciation and kindness are received with gratitude any time of the year. As, Cori, a principal, reflects, “The best gift I’ve received recently was on a random Tuesday with no expectation of a gift or any special occasions in the calendar. It was one of my teachers placing a bottle of wine on my desk and saying, ‘I just got the impression you needed this.’ She had attached a card that read, ‘In case you are wondering, I think you’re doing an amazing job.’ Between the perceived randomness, the incredible thoughtfulness and the impeccable timing, an ordinary bottle of wine became a tangible token that I will always remember.”

Hearing my friends and colleagues reflect on workplace holiday moments was a heartwarming experience—a true gift! When we take the time to share our stories, we are giving a piece of ourselves and there’s no greater gift than connecting authentically with those around us. Workplace cultures built on shared stories will take us far in the years to come. I invite you to share your favourite workplace holiday memory in the comments below. Best wishes over the holiday season and cheers to random Tuesdays!

Jocelyn Plakas-Lock

As ASEBP’s chief operating officer, 'JPL' (as she is affectionately known) has a vast wealth of knowledge and experience in health promotion with a focus on mental health issues. While she is a great support in this area, JPL is, sadly, utterly unable to execute a cartwheel—a flaw she more than offsets by being a baker of the finest chocolate cupcakes on the planet.

Shandy M. ASEBP - | December 21 2017 1:29 PM
When I worked with a small team at a different orgabnization, we used to come together and share a skill or talent with our colleagues during the holiday season. Through this special time together, I was lucky enough to learn how to make jellies and antipasto from some of my more seasoned culinary experts on the team. Making jellies is still a holiday tradition for me - and what I often gift my new teammates with for Christmas! 
Jocelyn P. ASEBP - | December 21 2017 3:58 PM
I love the idea of sharing skills and talents with each other... and also appreciate how you carry on the jelly tradition with your new team!