Bob Goldman

There's nothing like the holiday season to make someone jolly, happy and fired.

Yes, fired. In this economy, you have to watch your step all year 'round, but when it's holiday time, you must be doubly diligent. That's why I was so happy to find Ruth Mantell's recent column in the Wall Street Journal titled, "Five Holiday Don'ts at the Office."

Of course, even a shrewd observer of business behavior like Ms. Mantell doesn't always get it right, and some of her five "don'ts" I find to be definite "do's." So put down that eggnog and let's decide what you should do, or don't.

Office Don't No. 1 is complaining. As Mantell writes, "Sure, chewing limp baby carrots and making small talk at the office holiday party may feel lame, but complaining about it isn't cool either."

I have to agree. Limp or not, baby carrots have never made you work over the weekend or taken credit for your successful projects. Complaining to them now on the state of their muscle tone is just wrong. Now, if it we were talking about radishes, or, worse, celery, I'd say complain all you want. They deserve it.

(OK, so it's possible Mantell is writing about complaining to a human being about the flabby carrots, but you still must be cautious. The boss may be a vegetarian and could consider your trash talking her vegetable friends to be insubordination. You may come in the next morning and find a bushel of kohlrabi sitting at your desk.)

Giving inappropriate gifts is Office Don't No. 2. Merry rigmaroles, such as Secret Santa, may inspire you to give a gag gift, or even a gift that makes you gag, but be careful. As manners maven Charles Purdy puts it, "don't do these games unless everyone has a sense of humor about it."

Of course, you may think that anyone who survives at your company for more than a week must have a sense or humor, but it may make sense to save the fake vomit or the Whoopee Cushion for a more appropriate occasion, such as the annual tar and feathering of the HR department.

Another potentially risky gift situation involves your boss. "If you are friends with your boss," writes Mantell, "wait to exchange gifts outside of the office."

"It can be seen as trying to curry favor," adds Mr. Purdy, "and when you get a promotion, it's perceived that it's because you bought (your boss) a gift."

Now, let's face facts. For a slacker like you to get a promotion, you would have to give a fairly spectacular gift. Since I've already purchased the Hope Diamond to give to my boss, I doubt you're going to find anything suitable. Still, it does make sense to have your management gift exchange outside the office, and the surprise factor could make up for an uninspired gift. Just imagine the joy in your boss's little weasel eyes when you pop out of his gym locker with a suitcase full of money!

"Forcing a celebration" is Office Don't No. 4. The reasoning here is that "co-workers may not participate in holiday-season rituals and don't want merriment forced upon them."

This makes sense. If the reticent co-workers have been with the company for many years, they may have forgotten exactly what merriment is. On the other hand, it's perfectly fine to demand participation in your office's holiday rituals if the co-worker in question has invited you to one of their rituals. If you can dance naked around a boiling pot of frogs and spiders at the weekly meeting of their coven, they can sing a few darn Christmas carols.

Columnist Mantell's final injunction involves "power shopping online." "Skimming your favorite shopping websites during lunch may be a safe move," she suggests. "But avoid getting sucked in."

This is good advice since, as we learn from Robert Half Technology, "many companies allow access to online shopping sites, but many monitor for excessive use." Naturally, your company's definition of "excessive use" will closely relate to the identity of the recipient.

If you spend a week searching for the perfect gift for your boss, the IT geeks who monitor your web usage will give you a pass. But just in case they are still whacked out from too many limp carrots at the office party, don't feel you have to risk your job searching for the perfect gift for me.

A suitcase full of cash will be just fine.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com. To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

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Bob Goldman

Bob Goldman is a business humor writer.

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