What Employees Hate About the Holidays (Poll Results)

November 30, 2017 11:01 am Published by

Two years ago (2015), in response to a number of negative comments we had received from people regarding the upcoming holidays, we sent out a survey to our e-newsletter subscribers to find out what employees don’t like about the holidays. That year over 1,200 of our readers completed our survey. The results were interesting and found their way into a number of media articles (TV, radio, print).

Given that we now have significantly more newsletter subscribers (over 100,000!), and it is two years later, we thought it would be good to revisit the issue.

Just before Thanksgiving (2017) we asked our readers to answer the following questions. We had an amazing response – over 2800 (2400+ in the first 24 hours!). And over 900 of you shared individual stories of their worst experiences at work during the holidays.

While we normally focus of the positive aspects of relationships at work, unfortunately many people report a lot of negativity in their workplaces, which led to our researching and publishing Rising above a Toxic Workplace. In fact, some people who responded wondered why we were focusing on the negative (“Who was the Scrooge who wrote this?”)

We explore these issues because they exist in many people’s lives. While I attempt to focus on the positive and provide hope for improving workplaces, I am also committed to being reality-based.

Poll Results

On each of the first two questions, respondents were given a list of 15 items to choose from (they could choose more than one). And here are the results:

Q1. What aspects of the holiday season do you DISLIKE the most?

  1. Fighting traffic                                                              47%
  2. The extra expense of Christmas                                  41%
  3. Coming up with gift ideas for others                         37%
  4. Gaining weight                                                             32%
  5. Expectations to buy others gifts                                30%
  6. Busyness                                                                      29%
  7. Coming up with gifts ideas for myself                       27%

Q2. What don’t you like that happens at the workplace during the holidays?

  1. Pressure to get year-end tasks done                              33%
  2. “White Elephant” gift exchanges                                     28%
  3. Expected to buy gifts for colleagues or supervisor       27%
  4. Required to participate in “Secret Santa” giving            25%
  5. Having to work on holidays                                              24%
  6. Not being allowed to take time off                                   24%
  7. Having to attend after hours holiday celebration          23%

General Summary of the Findings

Here are the key themes from the poll results:

1. Probably the most important finding is the amount of “energy” that continues to exist among employees and managers surrounding various holiday activities and practices, both in our culture generally and in workplaces. Be aware that many employees have strong opinions about (and reactions to) holiday celebrations at work.

2. Fully one-third (33%) of employees & managers report the pressure to get year end tasks done as the aspect of the holidays they dislike the most.

3. Three of the most disliked activities at work (#2, #3, #4) among employees involves gift giving (“White Elephant” Christmas gifts, buying gifts for co-workers, participating in “Secret Santa” exchanges).

4. The second cluster of most disliked activities at work (#5, #6, #7) center on the issue of having to work on the holidays themselves and being required to attend after hours celebrations.

5. An interesting finding was that the themes and frequency of responses were quite similar to the 2015 poll results. Even though there were 15 possible responses to choose from, the frequent responses (top 7 for Q1 and top 8 for Q2) were the same.

6. Finally, there were common, repetitive themes from the example stories shared. Each of the following topics had numerous examples given.

  • having to work on the holidays or having to use PTO for the holiday;
  • a lack of focus on the holidays, not being able to celebrate ‘Christmas’ (as opposed to a ‘winter celebration’, but also being from a different religious background and feeling forced to celebrate Christmas;
  • negative behaviors and poor judgment resulting from excessive consumption of alcohol;
  • embarrassing experiences during White Elephant/Secret Santa gift giving.

Additionally, we asked people to write and tell us examples of their worst holiday experience related to work. Click on this link to read a sample of the “my worst holiday work experience” stories submitted by over 900 readers. I’m sure you’ll have similar reactions as I did to some (“You’ve got to be kidding me!!).

Implications & Suggestions

If we only report the results without giving some practical suggestions, this exercise is a waste of time. So here are some practical tips for employers and managers that can be gleaned from the results:

  • Leave ample time for employees to work on the extra year end tasks and reports. Be aware that people feel a “time crunch” both in their personal lives as well as at work.
  • Whenever possible, don’t create artificial deadlines for work to be completed. If possible, let some of the tasks and reports be done in January.
  • Don’t force your employees to participate in gift giving exchanges (explicitly or implicitly). In fact, see how many people really want to participate; consider not doing a gift exchange activity–the irritation created may not be worth the effort and keeping to prior tradition.
  • Be sensitive to scheduling issues and time requirements during the holidays, especially with regards to after work hours events.
  • If you are going to have a meal to celebrate, provide the food (or at least the main course) and account for those who don’t eat meat.

Finally, if your workplace seems pretty negative and unhealthy, you may want to take our Ratings of Toxic Workplace Symptoms (ROTS) scale to see how had it is in comparison to other workplaces or buy a copy of our Rising Above a Toxic Workplace book.


Also, in response to complaints that we were being too negative, we are sending out a “What I LOVE about the Holidays” poll and will share the results. If you want to participate in these and other polls we conduct, be sure to join our newsletter list.

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November 30, 2017 11:01 am

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