What a whirlwind, right? With Thanksgiving in our rearview mirror we're ready to hunker down for the December holidays. These times are to embrace gratitude, love, acceptance, peace, and grace. At home, with friends, with strangers, and even at work. We spend on average over two-thousand hours a year with your work family, of course we must pause to celebrate our togetherness. So, how to thoughtfully celebrate and ensure inclusivity within your team?

I've been in many workplaces (families) where it seems as though every birthday, workiversary, milestone, and holiday is celebrated. There have been retirement parties where the guest of honor was "surprised". There have been ridiculous Christmas parties that have gotten a little out of hand with the entertainment. I've seen ugly sweater contests, baby showers, of course birthday parties, and even St. Patrick's Day! I think I've eaten my weight in cake two times over in my lifetime.

Although many can do without the pomp and circumstance, I LOVE IT! The best part about these parties is the people. My coworkers appreciate the 20-minute break in the middle of the day to sing "happy birthday" and clap for their fellow co-worker (even if that was the 3rd birthday party that month). In every workplace throughout the years, one thing remains the same, the look on all the employees' faces.

A sense of gratitude, happiness, and joy fills everyone no matter what or who is being celebrated. It is a chance for co-workers to learn more about each other on a personal level, create joined memories, and have a laugh. Some events are celebrated by the entire company where others are by department and some between co-workers. Whatever the method, be mindful of the overall message.

My role in HR of course, has been dubbed the PARTY PLANNER. Those of you in HR, completely understand. In this role, it is necessary to be fair in how events are planned and executed. It may be an entire company event or departmental get together.

As a manager, with a smaller team, I strive to celebrate each team member on a more personal level. For instance, on my teammate's birthday I would decorate their desk, get them a little present and a card. This small token goes along away. You may need to brace yourself if you have someone who celebrates their birthday all month! It happens, I may be one of these people!

When it comes to the holiday's I've crafted a tradition where I get a small token (gift) for everyone in my office (about 10 people). Not from a title but from me as an individual. These gifts make the day of my co-workers and make me feel happy that I've spread some holiday cheer.

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” — Buddy the Elf

When preparing to celebrate within your office, remember each individual's preference. Be sure to be mindful of inclusivity. You will want to be aware of each individual's religious beliefs. Some members of your team or organization may not celebrate Christmas because the holiday does not align with their beliefs. Best approach, ask each new hire to fill out a celebration participation sheet (completely voluntary) or kindly ask them "how do you prefer to celebrate in the office". Ask that they indicate their preferred approach on celebrating within the office. Be mindful and considerate when asking for feedback. If the employee doesn't celebrate their birthday and do not want recognition, follow their preference.

Now that you know how to be mindful of how team members prefer to celebrate in the office, you can plan your celebrations. Here are some ideas:

The Holiday Party - There are some mixed emotions around celebrating December holidays with a Christmas party. However, do what is best for your team/workplace. If the consensus is everyone wants to have a Christmas party, throw a one. You can get creative here with having a pot luck. You could theme it Holidays From Around the World and have everyone bring a dish from their background or heritage. This is a good way to involve everyone and try some new food.

Gift Giving - If you are giving gifts, keep them small. Make sure that you're not over gifting and making the person receiving the gift feel uncomfortable. Keep it under $50 and ensure that it is thoughtful.

Ginger Bread House Competition - Each department is eligible to submit a ginger bread house creation to the contest. Have a panel of judges from each department. The winning department will receive a group gift like a pizza party, lunch, creative sweatshirts or even just bragging rights! This is a great way to show holiday cheer with a team project...and of course many laughs.

Decorating the Office - Take an afternoon for everyone to participate in decorating the office space, completely voluntary participation. This is a great way again to create a team atmosphere. You could take it one step further and provide hot chocolate and cookies!

Cubical or Office Door Decorating Competition - Any employee who wants to participate can decorate their office door or their cubical in any holiday fashion they choose. They could turn their cubical into a little holiday log cabin or they could decorate their office door like a gift. The winner would receive a prize. You could even do 1st, 2nd, 3rd place prices or hand out prizes for most creative or most practical.

No matter what you choose to do, make sure that everyone has the opportunity to feel involved and represented. Again the holidays are about togetherness, gratitude, love, and peace. Make sure that is the message of your celebrations across the company and you've done your job!

What sacrifices have you made to provide for yourself, your family, your pets, and your Amazon binging habits? By sacrifices, I mean what negative behaviors have you endured from others and maybe yourself in any given work day? Here's a sign, your inbox pings with an email from that dreaded co-worker who instantly triggers your fight or flight response. Your face gets flush, your heartbeat quickens, your palms get sweaty, and you haven't even opened the email yet.

I had been in a toxic work environment that is still having considerable amounts of residual effects on how I conduct myself professionally. For me, clear signs I was in a toxic workplace were the gaslighting, being bullied, being ignored, and the lack of consideration for other people's feelings. The final straw for me was when I was no longer able to do my job in an equitable way. I could not contribute to the team in an ethical, responsible manner.

I started to have physical reactions to this environment. I started to feel a knot of pain in my neck/shoulder, headaches, mood swings, poor attitude (which was unlike my optimistic-self), and a large self-awareness that this was happening and I had to stop it. The worst part of the realization was how I actually felt toxic. My presence, my overall feeling of being well completely diminished. I felt like I was breathing in/out toxic air that weighted on my heart and lungs - like a heavy cloud of green smog.

For you, these signs might be different. A toxic workplace is one marked by negative behaviors. Traits of a toxic workplace include, a lack of trust, no error for mistakes, bullying behaviors, being asked to sacrifice ethical practices, unrealistic deadlines, a complete lack of boundaries, lack of support, and manipulation and gaslighting is built into the culture.

Now that you've identified that you could be in a toxic workplace, how do you right the ship?

Set tighter boundaries

It is perfectly acceptable to create and hold tight boundaries at work. In fact, it is expected for a happy and health work-life balance. If you are part of an environment that expects you to put the Company first, above your mental health, your family, your personal time, your overall well-being, start a list of values important for your to live a balanced life.

Quick exercise:

Identify two situations or people in your life that you experience as disempowering. For each situation, identify the consequences of your feeling of disempowerment. Reflect on these two situations/people and write a list of why you found each disempowering. Now, name a boundary that you could tighten.


Situation - every time you suggest the legal approach to the problem at hand, you are gaslighted to believe the problem isn't what you are making it out to be.

List - your opinion wasn't heard, your expertise is being questioned, you are unable to do your job adequately, your integrity is being questioned, and your overall reputation is on the line.

Boundary - you value your integrity. If your team is not supportive of your expertise, you know that is crossing a boundary you hold high among your values list.

Ask yourself, what standard would you set for yourself to make that righter boundary work? Holding yourself to your own standard is another way to hold your boundary tight.

Don't repeat the past

Don't live in the past. If you want to recover with your current employer, move out of past behaviors and into positive behaviors. Although it is easy to allow past emotions creep in, you must approach each situation through a new optimistic lens. Try a new approach from your standard reaction to a situation. Instead of going back to your office and stew about a situation you could not control, try taking three deep breaths and repeating a mantra. Get away from that negativity a quickly as possible and into some positive thinking patterns.

Reframe your triggers

Remember that email that pinged your inbox and your instant flood of emotions? This is an opportunity for you! Noticing the trigger is half the battle. You've done that! Now tell yourself, okay this is a trigger for me and then pause. Tell yourself, this isn't about me. Ask yourself, what is it about this email/person that triggers me? Just having the awareness and giving yourself a moment, will make all the difference.

"Your perception of me is a reflection of you... my reaction to you is an awareness of me." - unknown author


Find an ally. There may be someone who you can share with who will help you and you can help them. Sometimes confiding in someone may help your situation. Speak to your supervisor if you have a trusting relationship. Speak with a member of your HR team to explain what you are experiencing. Also, get comfortable for standing up for yourself. Take small steps toward what you find acceptable and what you don't. Tap into your boundaries and values here.

Be kind to yourself * so important

Most importantly, be kind to yourself. No negative self talk, no putting yourself down. Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. Words of self-encouragement go a long way. Take a 5 minute break each morning and afternoon to do box breathing. On your lunch break, go for a walk, phone a friend, read your favorite book - do something that makes you happy.

If you have exhausted these five recovery tools and see no change, it may be time to plan your exit. Ask yourself what will I be leaving behind if I were to leave? This is a great first step to allow yourself to stop carrying the weight of an environment you cannot change.

Start your job search and be mindful of the next employer you choose. Here as some tips to help you avoid entering into another toxic workplace.

During the interview process ask these questions:

  1. What do you like about working here?

  2. How would you describe the culture of the department and the organization?

  3. How do you measure success?

  4. In what ways do you celebrate your staff's accomplishments?

This will help give you an idea of the environment you are entering without setting off any alarms that you are seeking to leave a toxic work culture.

When you start at your new employer, use the Five Ways to Recover From a Toxic Workplace. These steps will allow you to start anew. You can set your boundaries quickly and reinforce them as necessary.

If you are in a toxic workplace and want to dig in more on ways to recover, click below.

I've always defined HR as the bridge between the Company and employees. HR is the glue that holds the company together. Coaching is one tool used by HR professionals to help their company in setting and achieving goals through people.

Of course we know that the term coach started on the field in sports. But, would you be surprised to hear that the same theory of coaching on in the field was later adapted to serve the professional world?

Human resource management is the process of managing an organization's employees to include people management to effectively meet an organization's goals, (SHRM). I've always defined HR as being the bridge between the Company and employees. HR is the glue that holds the company together.

HR representatives present tools and resources to stockholders, managers, and employees to ensure they are engaged in their workplace and continue to build up the Company. Coaching is just one tool that HR managers can use to help a company and the staff to set and reach goals.

What role does HR have in creating a coaching culture? The short answer, the largest role possible.

Company culture is how things get done around an organization. OR the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company's employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions - Source: Investopedia. OR Culture is a set of relationships working toward a shared goal - its not something you are, its something you do - Source: The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle.

Culture can be steered by an intentional coaching plan. Already culture and coaching share many attributes: How. Interact. Relationships. Goals. All within actionable purpose at every institution.

Nearly 33% of employees in the U.S. are considering quitting their jobs, while 25% have actually resigned over the past six months, citing "toxic company culture" as their No. 1 reason for leaving. - CNBC April 2022.

So, how do we, as HR professionals and leaders within our organizations set the tone for a coaching culture?

These were my approaches

Strategic Coaching Approach

  1. I align myself with the stakeholders/senior management. - gain trust

  2. Carefully choose my approach when bringing up problems within the organization.

  3. I present not only the problem but a solution to the problem.

  4. When a member of management start down a path of judgement or criticism, I repeat the main issue and suggest a different approach, a coaching approach.

  5. Goals are the cornerstone of a coaching culture. I encourage stakeholders to look at short and long term goals. And ask them to bring in the right members of the team who exhibited strength and passion for certain areas of the project.

  6. And I encourage management to provide feedback to the main players that are appropriate.

Personnel Coaching Approach

  1. I practice coaching on upper, mid-management, and supervisors when it came to personnel issues:

  2. For instance, when a problem is brought up (depending on the problem) I echo back things like I wonder what it would look like if.... or, what could be the root cause to the problem?...

  3. Many times I encourage the manager to look at the personnel issue with a different lens. Be mindful in their approach when speaking with their staff.

  4. I always check in on the manager after the conversation to ensure they reached a resolution.

HR is in a position of great influence when trust is gained by the stakeholders and management.

Don't underestimate your impact and be fruitful with your resources. Your job is not always to solve the problem. That is the number 1 thing that coaches learn - it is not your job to solve the problem. Be aware of your feedback and how you respond to a situation. If you start to see yourself providing solutions in areas that solutions are not being solicited, stop yourself. Instead wonder how you can open up the conversation for more exploration with open ended questions.

To learn more about how you can incorporate a coaching culture at your institution, click below.