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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

The 3 Types of Co-workers That Magically Appear in Your Office Every December

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The days are shorter, the Starbucks lines are longer, and even in the South, you need a jacket to go outside. That’s right: the holidays are here. And for better (more sweets in the break room) or worse (stressing to hit year-end goals), they affect the workplace too.

For example, you may’ve noticed that some of your colleagues are acting differently. Yes, you navigate various types of co-workers all year long, but something about the holidays seems to highlight the easily distracted, the overly-festive, and yes, the Grinches on your team.

With that in mind, here’s your guide to three common holiday workplace personalities and how to deal with each one.

1. The Co-Worker Who Can’t Be Bothered With Work

Everyone’s had a day when the season throws a wrench in their productivity. Maybe a quick lunchtime holiday shopping trip runs over. Or chatting with colleagues about upcoming plans turns into a morning-long social event. Or you want to devote some time to freshening up on the day of the office holiday party.

That all makes sense—because it’s not every day. But what about the person who makes excuses all month long—all while you’re at your computer working (and feeling resentful)?

What to Do

Most likely, one of two things is going on with your teammate. Either he’s adding in productive hours when you’re not looking or he really is falling behind. And unless you’d like to start the new year behind on every project, you’d rather not actually be in his shoes.

It’s hard to stay at your desk when others are having all the fun, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Taking occasional breaks to socialize with your colleagues—especially if the rest of your team is doing it—helps build relationships.

The trick is listening to that little voice that says it’s time to finish that report. To refocus, remind yourself why it’s worth it: “In two weeks, my OOO will be up and I’ll able to spend all day with family/watching bowl games/laying on a beach. I need to finish [project] first, so I’ll be able to relax with no work hanging over my head.”

2. The Co-Worker Who Has All the Holiday Spirit

This colleague’s schedule includes more festivities because she genuinely loves this time of year. She’s wearing a holiday sweater, humming a holiday tune, and somehow always holding a peppermint hot chocolate. If you asked how her weekend was, you’d learn it was some combination of making wreaths, building gingerbread houses, and crafting her own wrapping paper.

You’re no scrooge, but you find her all-holiday all-the-time mentality a little draining.

What to Do

You want to ask her to reign it in, because it’s getting kind of annoying. But first, ask yourself if her habits are preventing you from doing your work. No? Then, consider keeping your feelings to yourself. There will be enough tough talks to be had with people who steal your ideas, speak over you in meetings, and play favorites. If you can, save your colleague—and yourself—the stress.

Now, if she’s doing something that’s preventing you from doing your work—say, blasting holiday music all day long—than you can absolutely ask if she could switch to headphones.

The key is to avoid the temptation to bring up her holiday obsession. When she replies to your “Would you mind using your headphones to listen to your music?” with “Just trying to spread some holiday joy!” skip “I know, it’s the 137th time we’ve heard All I Want for Christmas” and choose, “Quiet really helps me focus. Thanks for understanding!”

3. The Co-Worker Who Refuses to Be Merry

The idea that the holidays are a time to be with loved ones can make them devastating for people who are grieving or lonely. In turn, that can make holiday parties and even décor hard to be around (take it from the woman who’s cried in the ornament aisle at Target).

So, that person who blows off your friendly conversation about holiday plans or barely attends the office party may just be trying to hold it together.

And while, if your life was a movie, you’d find out why and commit some sweeping act of kindness; it’s your colleague who gets to decide whether they’d like to share that part of themselves at work (or not).

What to Do

If your co-worker’s someone who has pretty strict boundaries between their personal and professional life (hint: you have no idea why they’re upset), take that as a cue that they prefer to be private. While you may have the best intentions, saying something to lighten the mood like, “You could use some holiday cheer!” could make them feel even more uncomfortable.

The kindest thing you can do is give this person some space and engage them as you would the rest of the year (by talking about upcoming projects and secular hobbies).

Alternatively, if your co-worker was open about, for example, a loss over the past year, it’s thoughtful to acknowledge their sadness. The best way to do this is with a lead-in sentence. “I’ve noticed you seem sad this week” gives them the chance to say, “This is a really hard time for me without my grandmother here to spend the holidays with,” (which is an invitation to say something sympathetic and chat a bit) or “Yes, but I’m focusing on work.”

If it’s the latter, it may be too hard for them to discuss at work. They’ll appreciate that you cared enough to bring it up—and appreciate segueing to a new topic even more.

Yes, this time of year can make your colleagues act like different people. But no, that doesn’t mean you should respond unprofessionally. Instead, just keeping being your usual considerate self.