I was leading a session for a government client earlier this week and they asked me to propose a special activity with a holiday theme to liven up their staff retreat. I suggested that they do a Secret Santa activity for the week leading up to our session.
You pick a name out of a hat and for a period of a week you are invited do an act of kindness for your colleague every day. The kindnesses can be anything from leaving a hot cup of coffee on their desk without being seen, to clearing off the snow from their car before they leave at night, to writing a poem in their honor or leaving chocolates or other treats where they can find them. The Secret Santa observes his or her colleague throughout the week to learn a bit more about who they are, and especially, find something that they appreciate about them. At the end of the week, the Secret Santas are unveiled during a special staff meeting. At the meeting, the Secret Santas share with the rest of the group what they have observed from their colleague and what they like about them.
My client loved the idea. It was something we could do without much preparation and with no outlay of cash (budgets are very tight these days!) plus, it would add a bit of holiday cheer to the workplace.
A few days before the Secret Santa activity was to begin, my client received a few long-winded emails and even some calls from staff complaining that they did not have time to deal with such frivolous Christmas activities on work time: five acts of kindness in a week was simply too much to handle in these busy times (although it probably took as much time as would be necessary to do 3 or 4 acts of kindnesses to write the long formal memos to complain about the lack of time but that is besides the point...or is it?)
My client compromised. In an email she said: "We understand that some of you are concerned about the time required to the Secret Santa activity every day for a week so therefore, we are asking that you limit your acts of kindness to only twice during the week preceding our staff retreat."
That seemed to satisfy the naysayers. They had made their point. Their discontent was heard and management had acted on it. So everyone limited their kindnesses to two times during the week. (Can you sense the cynicism and incredulity behind my diplomatic words?)
What is wrong with this picture? A lot! First, that we have to formalize an invitation for people to be kind to each other in the workplace is very sad indeed. Busy people do not have time to be cordial and kind to each other apparently.
Second, since when do we have to schedule time to have fun and be playful at work? Does this mean that real work only gets done in a formal, perfunctory, robot-like environment? Does this mean that we cannot afford to be living and breathing human beings at work and let our hearts and soul sing while we do our work?
Third, who are those scrooges who dared to complain that they were too busy with work to do an act of kindness for their colleague??? How long does it take so say thank you or open the door for someone or leave a candy on someone's desk? Perhaps we are so out of practice with being kind that these individuals felt like they had to do a lot of planning to do an impromptu act of kindness? I really don't get it.
In the end, people were thrilled with the activity (so much so that they have proposed doing a Secret Easter Bunny activity next Spring!) At the close the staff retreat, I asked everyone to come up in turn to the front of the room to describe what their Secret Santa had done. All of them expressed real gratitude for the kindnesses they received. They were touched by their colleague's thoughtfulness and caring. Once they were done, the Secret Santa revealed themselves and came to the front to join their colleague. All of them, without exception, hugged each other - can you believe that? Marks of affection in a workplace! Some would say that it is odd. I say it is heart-warming. It was now the Secret Santa's turn to say what they appreciated from their colleague. Here are some examples:
- "Whenever I meet Mary in the hallways she always greets me with a happy hello and a smile."
- "I like that John always delivers what he promises when he promised it. His work is very professional and thorough."
- "You can go see Ghislaine if you need a little pick me up. She always finds something kind and positive to say. I always feel better after I talk to her."
- "Richard is a big thinker. He is like a walking encyclopaedia. I love talking to him about new ideas."
A lot of the Christmas movies seem to have a similar message. What makes Christmas magical is not the big ticket items under the tree or the gourmet food for Christmas dinner or the "bling" and designer clothes that you are wearing at the office Christmas party. What makes Christmas magical is that it awakens in us our humanity and our purpose "to do unto others what we would like them to do unto us."
At Christmas time, we are reminded about the abundance of things that we have and that we take for granted. At Christmas time, we are reminded that others are in need and we become more generous. We take the time to donate to Toy Mountain, the Food Bank, and World Vision or Care Canada. We make the time to volunteer at the soup kitchen or at the children's school fund raising activities. More so than any other time of the year, at Christmas time we feel that we can make a positive difference and we act on it.
The magic of Christmas is that love is free-flowing. And with love, anything can happen.
May you give and receive much love during this Christmas season...