When I was a university instructor, the semester was over by Christmas Eve.When I was a consultant, I could usually contrive to take the day off. Consequently, I’ve rarely had to work on Christmas Eve. But looking back, I think that the last Christmas Eve I did work was a major reason why I made the move into freelance journalism.
At the time, I was working in Yaletown, at a small software company that had limped along for twenty years without ever finding much of a market for its product. Realizing that the company’s time was running out, its board had hired a new CEO for one last shot at profitability. The CEO was full of management theories, and was fond of saying that he wanted passionate employees. At the same time, his core approach to leadership must have been modeled on Josef Stalin’s, because he had the habit of periodic purges.
In six months, the CEO had three purges. Between the difficulties of losing key information with key employees and the waiting for the next purge, morale was deeper than the Mariana Trench, and falling.
Having just come off two successful positions in which I had been in the inner circle of decision makers, I found the CEO’s antics hard to tolerate. My frequent thought that I could do a better job was not conceit – I had done so, and little credit to me. Frankly, anyone with sense could have done a better job than the CEO, too.
Surprisingly, the CEO sprung for a Christmas party. Looking back, I wonder if he calculated that, the office being in Yaletown, an ex-warehouse district where every block had half a dozen restaurants, most people would have put in a full day before the party began. More likely, he had simply read in one of his management books that a Christmas party was a way to win over the staff.
Whatever his motivations, the party was not exactly a success. The food was better than average, but the talk was about the rumors of a new purge, which made the occasion as festive as a school tour of a slaughter-house. Spirits rose a little with the gift exchange, but it seemed a dismal occasion compared to the one in which I had participated a couple of years earlier in Indianapolis. A few games of pool and foosball later, everyone had gone except the CEO and a couple of other company officers.
Still, the party had encouraged everyone to think that the CEO might unbend enough to let people go home early on Christmas Eve. But he had said nothing on December 23, so everyone arrived the next day uncertain what was expected.
The CEO showed up early in the morning, then went out. As usually happens in an office on Christmas Eve, most people made a pretense of trying to work, and the more conscientious actually put in an hour or two . But by 11AM, people were drifting between offices, leaning in door frames and chatting. Occasionally, they shifted positions so as not to be too obvious.
By 12:30, people were concluding that the CEO wasn’t coming back. In fact, he had left without a seasonal greeting to anyone – and no mention of whether people were expected to work the entire day.
Before long, people started to sneak out. By 2PM, the last of us decided that there was no point being martyrs, and exited together. I don’t think the CEO ever did learn what had happened.
Being a contractor, I noted that I owed two hours, and made up the time in the next week. But I kept thinking of the CEO’s abandonment of his responsibilities.
Perhaps he felt that he could not officially condone people going home early, and his disappearance allowed him to offer the holiday without officially knowing what people were doing. But, considering his purges, I doubted he had such a humanitarian gestures in him. I think he left early to please himself, and never considered the employees at all – and that his behavior was only an extreme form of what I had seen elsewhere in business.
Frankly, I was fed up.
I am not one for New Years’ Resolutions, but, that year, I promised myself that I would not celebrate another Christmas at that company. By next summer, I had moved on. But the company officers at my new consulting gig proved just as unempathic, so, with Christmas approaching again, I took the jump into journalism.
I have never worked in an office since. But this year, as I’ve spent a leisurely Christmas Eve going to the bank to pay for our latest work of art, then coming home to exercise and wrap the last few presents, I feel overwhelming relieved not to be in an office at Christmas. So far as I’m concerned, people like this CEO rank next to malls crowded with shoppers – both are things I’m grateful to be able to can avoid.