Lean office Christmas on the cards as enthusiasm drains away


Tinsel is in short supply and staff would rather have the time off than go to the party – even wretched ecards are thin on the ground

THIS IS the least Christmassy Christmas I have ever spent in the office. There is no tinsel stuck to the top of the photocopier. There are no strings of Christmas cards dangling from the ceiling. In fact, there are hardly any cards at all.

So far this year I have received only three. One is from a company I have never heard of bearing an image of the corporate logo with reindeer antlers on top. Inside is a scrawled signature that could say Ian. Or Jon. Either way, I don’t know him from Adam. The second has no signature inside it at all; only the third card comes from someone whom I actually know.

Nor has a single corporate gift come my way this year; only a stern memo from management outlining our anti-bribery policy and spelling out what to do in the event of receiving anything nice (refuse it, give it back, donate it to charity, and so on).

And as for parties, no one seems to want them at all any more. A survey published last week of British office workers showed that 94 per cent would rather have the cash or time off than spend an evening drinking mulled wine with workmates.

Maybe it’s the recession: worrying about your job or worrying whether your savings might be safer stashed under the mattress does not put you in the mood for mince pies.

Or it may be that we have all finally reached the only sensible conclusion about Christmas in the office: it doesn’t work. Festivity doesn’t mix with professionalism and political correctness.

Even wretched ecards are thinner on the ground this year than before. An acquaintance who runs a media company tells me that she’s canned her animated card on discovering that it would cost £2,000 to produce.

This is rather a lot when you consider that the entire amount of goodwill generated as clients click a link in a spam-like email is probably slightly less than zero.

A few companies persist with cheaper ecards, but their hearts aren’t in it. A reader has sent me his candidate for the worst this year, which comes from the new chief executive of the UK Border Agency. It sums up the joyless spirit perfectly. The image is anodyne enough – snowflakes on a blue background with “Seasons Greetings from the Home Office” written at the top, and lower down “Home Office Group includes: Criminal Records Bureau, Government Equalities Office, Identity and Passport Service”, information that, though mildly useful, is not terribly joyful.

The attached email is grimmer still. “Dear Colleague,” it begins infelicitously. “The past year has been a demanding and challenging one, but also one where the agency has achieved many successes in delivering the government’s immigration agenda.”

This strikes three wrong notes simultaneously. The festive season is a time for blowing celestial trumpets – not for blowing your own. Second, from my reading of the newspapers the agency has suffered a lot more strife than success in 2011, and third, an “agenda” is something for discussion, not for delivery.

Only one company is bucking the trend. Shareholder Representative Services, which helps companies tie up financial loose ends after mergers, has emailed its clients a two-minute film, an expensive remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Showcrossed with Monty Python. It features cut-outs of the Queen and Iggy Pop dancing to Let’s Do the Time Warp Again, only they have changed the lyrics to “Let’s Do a Merger Again!”

At home on the sitting room mantelpiece, the situation is not much better. This morning’s meagre offering included a relatively tasteful Madonna and Child with the inscription “To Lucy and David”, only the sender had lost focus before conveying it into the envelope and omitted to write their own name.

When I mentioned the scarcity of cards to a friend, he said his own 2011 crop was so pitiful that he had decided to dig out last year’s and put them up on the mantelpiece, where they are looking rather good.

This strikes me as a brilliant idea that we all should follow. There is no reason why a card should last one year, indeed, it would be so much more efficient, so much more ecological, if it lasted longer – two, five or even 10 years. Senders would simply specify the card’s expiry date, based on when they expect their goodwill towards the recipient to run out.

Such a system could apply to corporate cards too, thus saving untold quantities of money and time.

I now wish that I’d hung on to the pretty views of St Paul’s under snow and Nativity scenes that people used to send me. Even though I don’t much like Christmas at work, the bookcases over my desk look a bit bare, and such scenes would jolly them along no end. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011