I love this time of year ... the lights, the music, the hustle and bustle of shoppers rushing from optometrist to optometrist trying to use up their flex spending money before the year runs out.
And then there are the holiday greetings. How meaningful and thoughtful they are, especially the ones that begin, "Due to lower-than-expected performance in the first three quarters, the traditional holiday bonus will this year be replaced with the enclosed certificate good for 50 percent off at Applebee's, and a hearty 'Season's Greetings' from headquarters in Delaware."
But the best thing about this time of year may be the get-togethers. Friends get together for sumptuous dinners and eggnog toasts. Whacked-out families get together for big Christmas free-for-alls. Auld acquaintances renew themselves, new acquaintances work toward becoming auld ones, and it's all wonderful and heartwarming ...
With the exception, that is, of office pitch-ins, which never seem to go quite as expected for the chairpersons of the planning committees:
"All right, so let's review: The mail room is in charge of chips and snacks. Guys, we're giving you another chance on this one, OK? Some of you who weren't here last year might not be aware that last year the mailroom people forgot all about their responsibility and showed up with half a box of stale Triscuits and a bag of carrot sticks they stole from somebody's lunchbox. We're expecting better this year. What? No, by better I do NOT mean a whole box of stale Triscuits.
"All right, marketing? Marketing, you're in charge of meats and cheeses. Yes, I know you've traditionally been in charge of beverages, and you've always done a splendid job, but let's remember what happened last year when Research and Development was in charge of the meats and cheeses. Somebody put a piece of bologna under the microscope and the next thing you knew, we had a HazMat crew in here scrubbing the walls with Clorox.
"IT, you're taking beverages, but listen up: Just because you people live on twoliter bottles of Mountain Dew doesn't mean the rest of us want to. We'll need all kinds of soda, assorted juices, some bottled water-quiet, R&D-some mixers and an assortment of liquor. Oh, wait. You'll have to get someone from another department to help you with that. We forgot. There's no one in IT old enough to buy booze.
"OK, this brings us to side dishes. We still don't have anyone for side dishes. What would you think about having employees bring in their favorite side dishes from home? Well, yes, we did try that one year and wound up with 123 versions of green bean casserole, but come on, this is 21stcentury Indiana. What are the chances of that happening again?
"Legal? Where's legal? OK, legal, we want you in charge of desserts. No, we are not picking on you. We just figured you're the only department that could handle the task of finding desserts that won't cause problems for all the people who are lactose intolerant, allergic to peanuts, vegan, allergic to gluten, or just looking for something to complain about. Have fun.
"R&D, you'll do plates and napkins. And yes, we want real plates and napkins. Boxes of tissues from peoples' desks and those brown paper towels from the men's room do not count. Oh, we'll also need plastic forks and spoons. And cups. Please don't forget the cups. Chances are people will be drinking straight from the bottles as the party goes on, but there's no need to start that way.
"This brings us to entertainment. Since we're not doing Secret Santa anymore thanks to the lingerie scandal of 2004, and since the only person who signed up for the talent show was a smart-aleck from community relations whose talent is typing on his laptop, we've decided to set up a boombox and a bunch of Ray Conniff Christmas CDs again this year. So bring your iPods.
"All right, that's it. Any questions? Good. I'm sure that with a little cooperation and a little of that old Devonderhaven Iron Pipe & Radiator Co. team spirit, we can make this the happiest employee holiday pitch-in ever. We'll see you all in the cafeteria at noon on the 23rd. What's that? You're kidding. Are you sure about this? You let me do all this work and you're just telling me now?
"OK, how many of the rest of you knew that the 23rd falls on a Sunday?"
Redmond is an author, columnist and speaker, and a consultant on business writing and workplace issues. His column appears monthly. You can reach him at email@example.com.