The holiday season has always intrigued me as a social study.
On one hand, it’s a time for giving, for sharing, for loving. It’s a time for peace, rest and family.
And, here’s what I’ve learned over the years as both a journalist, PR consultant, father and husband — stress makes people act abnormally. They truly “aren’t themselves” when stress levels hit a certain point.
And, when people aren’t themselves, they can say and do unintended things which can have negative ramifications on their reputation. This is more the case today than ever — with everyone acting as a reporter with the ability to broadcast images, videos and observations. I’ve written an entire blog entry on that subject alone.
As someone who does a lot of crisis communications planning, we identify the possible risks and opportunities moving forward.
So, with that in mind, let’s assess your reputational risk factors associated with the holiday season and help you navigate them accordingly.
#1 – The Office Christmas Party
Let’s get this obvious one out of the way immediately (and much of this can be applied to New Year’s Eve as well).
I have seen people do and say things at staff Christmas parties that others are still talking about — some 10 to 20 years later. I’ve seen careers end — or at minimum — get stalled dramatically based on the events of one evening. Not surprisingly, it usually begins and ends with alcohol. Somewhere in the middle, it can include:
- Hitting on the boss’s wife or husband
- Saying something highly inappropriate to a co-worker
- Telling someone how you ‘truly’ feel about them
- Getting in to a physical altercation
- Passing out in front of one’s co-workers
- Vomiting in front of one’s co-workers
- Sleeping with a co-worker
In any of the above situations, your colleagues, immediate supervisors and corporate executives will likely pass judgment on you (fairly or unfairly) — and it can have a devastating impact on your career.
STRATEGIC RECOMMENDATION: If you’re ‘upwardly mobile’ and ambitious, my best advice is to NOT get drunk at the office Christmas party. The risks associated with it far outweigh the rewards. Now, you don’t want to look uptight so plan on having a few drinks to be social. Use this as an opportunity. While others are making fools of themselves, find a moment to sit with the boss and his/her spouse and get to know them socially. Don’t linger. 5 or 10 minutes and out.
#2 – Shopping Madness
Between now and Christmas can be tough to manage if you have go to into a shopping mall. Yes, it’s stressful and, yes, it’s going to be insanely busy.
The Internet is littered with videos and pictures of people doing abnormal things in the face of unprecedented shopping chaos.
Many end up giving someone the finger or being rude with a cashier. Sometimes it gets physical.
10 years ago, that was nothing. But, today, it end ups getting shared around the world.
But, as busy as Christmas shopping season can be, the true Battle Royale happens on Boxing day — and that’s your biggest threat.
You can say you’ll be calm and go out with the full intention of being calm. But, then someone says something or does something to you and then it’s off to the races.
So, you don’t want to be anywhere near this risk — for fear of ending up on the nightly news or — worse — on Twitter.
STRATEGIC RECOMMENDATION: Stay calm and give yourself extra time to shop between now and Christmas. Consider online shopping as a way to mitigate risk. Stay home on Boxing Day. Seriously. Stay home.
#3 – Social Media “Inner Thoughts”
Combine stress, debt, family and alcohol — now throw in the ability to speak to your friends and the world instantly through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, text, blogs, etc.
I come back to my initial premise — stress makes people not themselves. That’s fine if you’re grumbling in your recreation room while watching TV — but it’s a different game when you have the ability to ‘broadcast’. You may be stressed but others are, too — and I’m not sure how welcoming they are to dealing with their stress and absorbing yours as well.
“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” ~Proverbs 16:27
And, once the chaos settles down at Christmas, the family dinners are done, the gifts are opened — there’s often a week or so of nothing to do. These days, many will turn to social media — and this is where some will communicate what I call their “inner thoughts” on subjects like sex, religion and politics — things that should never be said broadly. I’ve seen it end friendships and hurt careers. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.
STRATEGIC RECOMMENDATION: Limit your social media activity over the holidays. Focus on the things that count. And, if you are going to go online and talk — keep it positive. Be the solution, not the problem.
BONUS TIP – The Handwritten Card — the Secret Weapon
These days, it seems no one expects the ‘personal touch’ at Christmas. Other than your Aunt, the chances of getting a handwritten Christmas card with a thoughtful note or greetings is pretty rare.
That’s why writing out a card or a note is a great idea — whether it’s connecting with old friends and family — or if it’s connecting with a current, past or prospective client.
It doesn’t have to be a Christmas card specifically. It can simply be a year-end note. A time for reflection and a time to set your personal narrative for the upcoming year. It’s the time to pause and show appreciation, love, friendship and loyalty to the people in your personal and professional life.
Does it take time? Yes. But, it’s an investment that those on the receiving end will truly appreciate.
Make a list of people you appreciate in your personal and business life. Sit down and write out cards or notes in your own handwriting. Just a couple of paragraphs with some concept of looking ahead to the new year.
Get them mailed out by mid-December — earlier for business associates because you’ll likely be mailing to their office and you want them to get it before they go on holidays.
As the old saying goes, it can take years to build up a reputation and mere minutes to destroy one. Don’t be foolish over the holidays.
All the best to you and your family!
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