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Business lessons from a Christmas story

Just before Christmas when I was eight years old, my dad brought home a big cardboard box that he painted to look like a fireplace. Our house was small, so the big box in the living room was a bit of an inconvenience. My three brothers and I grumbled amongst ourselves as we put the Christmas tree on top of it, piled the presents around it, and wondered why in the world dad wanted a fake fireplace.

Also just before Christmas that year, dad told my brothers and me to clean out the garage. Dad never had a problem with our garage being in disarray before, so we grumbled amongst ourselves as we worked and wondered why in the world dad wanted it cleaned now.

After opening our presents on Christmas morning, dad said “I guess we don’t need this fake fireplace anymore” and lifted up the box. Underneath was a brand new television (this was in 1970, so it was our first color TV). Then dad said, “let’s take our Christmas walk.” We never took a Christmas walk before, but if dad wanted to walk we were going to walk. He led us out to the garage, lifted the garage door, and revealed four shiny new bicycles. Best Christmas ever!

You might be thinking, “That’s nice, but what does this have to do with the business world?” Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, there are several lessons to be learned by employees from my story.

First, dad was our boss and he had good reasons for doing what he did and telling us what to do. Because we didn’t understand those reasons, we complained and felt put upon. Of course, dad couldn’t tell us his reasons because that would have ruined the surprise. Bosses usually have good reasons for what they do and what they tell their employees to do. Because we often don’t understand those reasons, we complain and feel put upon. I strongly encourage employers to explain their reasons behind their policies, procedures, and directives to increase their employees’ understanding and commitment; however, sometimes bosses can’t or don’t provide an explanation, and we just need to trust that they know what they’re doing.

Second, dad made sacrifices (such as working overtime and staying up all night to put the bikes together) in order to make that Christmas happen for us. Of course, he didn’t tell us about those sacrifices – my mom did many years later. Employers often make sacrifices that their employees know nothing about. For example, I know of one company whose partners went without pay for several months in order to avoid laying off any employees. I know of an executive director of an organization who went without a pay increase for years so his employees could have raises instead. Employees should know that operating or managing a business requires sacrifices that we often don’t know about, but for which we should appreciate.

Finally, dad went way above the call of duty that Christmas. I now know that the only thing my parents were required by law to do for my brothers and me was to ensure our basic needs were met and that we went to school. However, as a child I thought that my parents were supposed to provide a nice Christmas for us. Employees often have the same expectation of their employers. Therefore, they should know that employers are not required by law to do anything special for their employees on Christmas day. In general, employers who give employees the day off, pay them while they don’t work, pay them extra for working, and provide parties, bonuses, and other gifts at Christmas time are going way above the call of duty. I strongly encourage employees to thank their employers if they receive any of these presents.

This story is one of my favorite memories and is always a joy to tell. I hope this holiday season is full of precious moments that become a favorite memory for you.

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Disclaimer: The information and resources provided herein are not a substitute for experienced legal counsel and does not constitute legal advice or attempt to address the numerous factual issues that inevitably arise in any employment-related dispute. Although this information attempts to cover some major recent developments, it is not all-inclusive, and any recommendations are based upon HR best practices and procedures. We recommend you consult an attorney for legal guidance.

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