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Coffeepot Chatter: The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year?

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Maria: (returns from lunch with a bag full of holiday wrap and ornaments) I love the holiday season. I wish we could do more at the office than eat cookies.

Tom: Yeah. I have an elf decoration that sings Jingle Bells. Can I bring him in?

Harry: Whoa. I appreciate your enthusiasm at this time of year. Let’s put this on next week’s staff meeting agenda and talk about how we can celebrate the season in a way that everyone can participate and enjoy.

Ah, the holidays. So much anticipation, so much celebration – so many questions about what to do at work. And which holidays are we celebrating? Hanukkah? Christmas? Kwanzaa? New Year’s? There are many, many more.


To share the joy of the season, many people like to greet others or answer the phone differently than they would at other times of the year. Perhaps a generic greeting of “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” may seem impersonal with someone you have worked with for years. So, if you know someone celebrates Christmas, then, “Merry Christmas” is fine. But be very sure you know - don’t make an assumption. If you aren’t sure, go with “Happy Holidays.”

What if someone celebrates more than one holiday? Many people do. And what about those who don’t believe in celebrations? When in doubt, play it safe. It’s best to go with the generic, “Happy Holidays” for phone calls and voice mail as well.


Doesn’t it seem that eventually we’ll be listening to holiday music while soaking up the sun at the beach on Labor Day weekend? (Let’s hope it never gets to that!)

If you love the sounds of the season and want to listen at work, the first question to ask is if you are permitted to listen to music in your area or department at other times of the year. If that answer is yes, then the same rules apply:

•    The volume needs to be kept low so the music is for your ears only.
•    It should not distract you or others from getting work done and it cannot be offensive or inappropriate for the work environment.

This can be a tough juggling act, more so with holiday music. The first time the employee in the adjacent cubical says, “If I hear I’ll Be Home with Bells On one more time…” pick up on their cue and turn off the music.

Remember, we spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families. Be considerate. Being extra considerate at this time of year exhibits good will.


While some may argue that it is their First Amendment right to decorate as they want, at Lehigh we want everyone who enters our work spaces to feel included, not alienated.

 Jonathan Segal, an employment attorney with Duane Morris and occasional provider of workplace learning programs at Lehigh, offers the following recommendations for holiday decorations:

1.    Diversify
2.    Consider secular versus religious (winter plants, snowflakes, etc.)
3.    Consider size and placement
4.    Invite employees to participate in expanding decorations to reflect additional holidays

If in years past you’ve had a small Christmas tree in the office, this year include a menorah, dreidls, a Kwanzaa basket or other decorations that reflect observances of our students, faculty and staff.

If you’ve been at Lehigh nine years or more you may recall a time when a shorty Santa stood in the lobby of the HR building. HR now opts for lovely poinsettias instead of Santa’s red attire.


We’ll keep it simple. If your office exchanges gifts, keep the gifts appropriate. Nothing sexually suggestive or related to unlawful activity. No cash. And if you receive something from a vendor, remember the university’s Conflict of Interest policy. You are to refrain from accepting anything of more than a nominal value.

In closing, have yourself a merry little holiday – or a big one, whichever holiday you celebrate!

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