There’s Too Much Trouble in the World to Have a Holiday Party
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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I’m having a hard time navigating the holidays this year. We lost two people in our office in 2023, one to COVID and one to cancer. These were long-time and very loyal employees with whom everyone enjoyed working and who made a positive impact on our team and on our clients.
I thought I had moved past the sorrow – one passed in late May and one in early August. But I’m finding myself very melancholy and not terribly motivated to do our annual holiday party or get nice gifts for our clients.
I read your article last week about gifting, and I appreciate the ideas to do something special. But what if I’m not motivated to do anything at all? Not sure if this is something that requires a medical diagnosis, like depression or seasonal affect disorder (SAD), but I’m quite down and my entire advisory team is feeling the effects. Recommendations about what to do to pull myself up?
I’m sitting here reading your note and thinking about how to respond a little before 5 p.m. It is so pitch black outside I cannot see a thing. I think this time of year brings many of us down a bit. It’s dark, it’s cold and if you have lost someone during the year, the holidays can bring the sorrow back in full force (I am also experiencing this). I respect how much these team members meant to you and how you clearly miss them. They were more than employees; they were part of your advisory team family.
Here are some ideas to bring them into your holiday plans – this won’t remove your sadness mind you, but it will give you a way to move forward and bring them into your holiday planning and bring your team together to honor them:
- Make a significant donation to a cause, or causes, each of these people cared deeply about. Talk as a team about what mattered to them, or what you learned from them or simply what organizations remind you of them and donate in their names and in their honor. Send a note to your clients letting them know you have done this, saying how happy you are they were part of your team and the clients were able to know them and work with them, too. This doesn’t have to take the place of any other gifting you might do for clients. But it will be a way for you to bring their memory forward and do something important.
- On a similar note, find somewhere the entire team can volunteer during the holidays. There is nothing better to take away one’s own sorrow than helping someone who is less fortunate. This could be a food bank, a soup kitchen, a nursing home, or a homeless or animal shelter. There are many places in need and doing something together as a team could lessen your sadness and bring joy to everyone working together.
- Take your team out to dinner explicitly to have a “remember when…” experience whereby each person shares their favorite thing, or experience, with the person who is now gone. Ask people to bring stories and memories and to be as specific as possible. Keeping their memories alive as a group could be very beneficial to you and doing it in a public place (i.e. not the office) where you are sharing a meal could be soothing.
- Sorrow and grieving are not “one and done” experiences. Grief hits each one of us differently and at unexpected times. You are only human, and you are missing people who were important to you, your firm and your entire team. Give yourself a bit of room to grieve and recognize it is natural. If you find you are having difficulty functioning or are otherwise too depressed to do what’s needed in your work and your life, then seek professional counsel for support.
I have family in Israel. This end of the year has been challenging for me. Our advisory firm is doing well, and my team members want to have a big soiree for our clients. I don’t feel up to it. I’m not sleeping well, am worried about my family and will find it hard to celebrate with wealthy people who have nothing more to worry about than whether the market ends up.
I enjoy my work under normal circumstances, and I appreciate my clients. But this year faking happiness over material things isn’t in my DNA.
Do I allow my team to have the party and I don’t attend? Do I put on a happy face and do it anyway? Do I share with my team I am struggling as much as I am? I am a transparent leader, but I haven’t wanted to bring them all down by sharing what I am dealing with. To add to this, my wife is from Ukraine. While her family lives in a part of the country where it is reasonably safe, she has many friends and extended family in the war zone areas.
I don’t mean to be a downer by sharing all of this, but I do want you to know the extent of what I am wrestling with so you don’t give me some “chin-up” answer. Please do not use my initials. I don’t believe my clients would ever come across this column. But if they did I would not want them to know this is about my situation.
Your note to me is such a great example that we never know what someone is dealing with or how they might be struggling. The key is to be kind as much as possible to everyone we meet. First, my sincere condolences on all you are dealing with – many of us either have friends and family affected, or if we don’t, we certainly care deeply about the trauma and devastation human beings just like us are dealing with in far too many places. It’s concerning and hard to focus on other things right now when you are very connected to events in another part of the world that personally impact you.
I don’t believe you can put on a happy face. There is a possibility you could enjoy yourself for just a few hours were you to have the client holiday party. But if you sincerely believe you would be in misery the whole time trying to be a faker, I don’t recommend this. If your clients don’t know already about a party (it sounds as if you haven’t planned it yet), I don’t think you need to do this if you don’t feel right about it.
That said, even with everything going on, your clients will still worry about their portfolios and their money and will still be buying gifts or donating money at the holidays as they always have. It’s hard to understand, but even with the trauma elsewhere in the world, each person has only the capability to live their own lives and take care of what is in front of them. It doesn’t mean they don’t care, or they wouldn’t support you or want to know what they can do. It means they are living in their own universe and focusing on what’s meaningful to them. This is the human condition. They might care deeply about what you are going through, but it isn’t their reality right now. No judgement, just acknowledgement.
Share your burden with your team. Let them know this is a difficult holiday season for you and you are not up to throwing a party. You would not want to have one that you did not attend. Task them with coming up with some nice client gifts or client acknowledgement (i.e., donations on behalf of your clients) where you could let clients know you are thinking about them but not have to do something you are entirely uncomfortable with right now.
There are no easy answers to any of this. Everyone tries to navigate in the way that’s best for them. I would not give “a pat answer” because I don’t have one. These are the difficult aspects of life that no one has written the book on how best to handle. I’m sharing my perspective, but reach out to another advisor or a COI like an accountant or attorney you trust and talk about the situation. Others may be experiencing what you are or may have another perspective. Ultimately, it’s best to do what your gut and intelligence tell you to do. This rarely steers us wrong.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry, in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. The firm has won the Wealthbriefing WealthTech award for Best Training Solution for 2022 and 2023. Beverly is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. She is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.
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