Some great Valentine’s Day ideas for the workplace this year

As it does every year, February 14th is upon us, inspiring millions of people in relationships to pay way (WAY) too much for flowers and candy, and reminding all the single people out there that a) they are lucky not to have to buy overpriced flowers or b) that they are so very, very alone. But what about work? We’ve all been hearing about how important workplace culture is, so what are some fun, work-appropriate Valentine’s Day celebration ideas? I’ve asked around and have come up with the following list.

NOTHING. There is absolutely no reason, whatsoever, to celebrate Valentine’s Day at the office. Only bad things can happen. Terrible things. It’s not a real holiday anyway.

I mean, think about it. There are a million arguments against workplace Valentine’s Day celebrations, and only two legitimate ones in its favor. Let’s talk about the biggest cons first:

a)    Your office is, presumably, populated with grown-ups. Grown-ups either have significant others to participate in or ignore Valentine’s day with or if they don’t they almost certainly don’t choose their co-workers as a substitute. It’s like taking your cousin to prom.

b)    You likely have at least one unrequited crush in your office and possibly a covert relationship going on. Let’s not make it more painful and awkward than it already is.

c)     Fake and forced ‘gatherings’, especially centered around a fake holiday, will do nothing to build the camaraderie you probably think it will and really just waste people’s time.

d)    Your HR people do their level best all year round to keep things professional so to purposefully bring a holiday that is centered around ROMANCE into the OFFICE makes no sense.

e)     It’s not a real holiday!!!

So, that being said, there are two legitimate reasons to want to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the office. This by no means makes it a good idea, but they are compelling.

The first is wanting to have a fun, relaxed culture where co-workers can spend some time getting to know each other to strengthen the team. In all seriousness, this is the driving force behind most of the work/social occasions. This is an excellent goal, and a collaborative and creative cultue centered around a strong team should be one of the main focuses of a leader. But Valentine’s Day celebrations, ice cream socials, or other ‘fun’ or fluffy events will not achieve this for you if you don’t have a strong and efficient team already. Think of all the events like the frosting, and a profitable company with effective systems is the cake. In order for people to even want to spend time together on the social activities, you need trust, respect, and the ability to execute well. Without the trust and respect that comes from knowing how everyone’s job fits together into the greater whole, your Valentine’s Day celebration will be met with rolled eyes at best.

The second legitimate reason? Free cupcakes, of course! Nothing bad will ever come from having free cupcakes, so feel free to distribute at will (although you should make sure to have sugar-free, gluten-free, nut-free alternatives available of course).

So happy…day…let’s just leave it that!

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Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people.  With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work.  Carrie can be reached for consultation at


The 6 MUSTS of employee engagement

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the most common frustrations I hear from leaders and company owners is that people don’t care about their company as much as they do. Sometimes these folks engage me to help make their people care more. Once we establish that short of providing stock options (and even that’s debatable) employees will never care ‘as much’ as the owner, there are things that tend to elicit far more employee engagement and good stewardship and usually when company owners are frustrated, they tend to do less of these things so it can be a vicious cycle. There are a lot of ways to increase employee engagement. The magic bullets used to be ‘empowerment’, ‘accountability’ and ‘communication’…well, they still are, only they’re not magic and you actually need to do things differently to produce the effects call ‘empowerment’…etc. and not just tell people they are empowered.

Here are some behaviors I have found have been highly successful to draw a team together, enhance unity and elicit good stewardship of company resources.

Trust: If your people truly trust you and each other, you will be amazed at the collaboration, innovation and honesty you will see. We all know that it takes much more effort to lose trust than to earn it and that simply telling people to trust is not effective. Trust takes time and is built on a foundation of shared experience, honored commitments and integrity. The more vulnerable people are with one another, the more trust will develop. Although this is not something that can be forced, it can be modeled and it starts from the top down.

Respect: When you don’t respect people, they can tell, and it does not bring out the best in them While trust needs to be earned, respect is best given freely. If you treat people like brain-addled children or larcenous miscreants, there is no way you will get a committed work force. Yes, we need accountability measures and security, but you probably shouldn’t have people in your employ who you don’t trust. If you don’t trust anyone on general principle, management and leadership might not be the best and most fulfilling role for you.

Communication: Many leaders think of communication as telling people just what they know to perform their task. This is a necessary component of employee engagement but far from sufficient. People by nature need to feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves. You build this by sharing your vision of where your company is going. You also do this by sharing the bad news as well as the good. I don’t mean causing panic and disruption by scaring people within impending doom, but assuming you have hired responsible adults they will appreciate the opportunity to be part of the solution. But more than telling people things, communication is also listening and hearing. Ask your people if there are things they need from you. Ask if there are better ways of doing the job. And implement what you can.

Contingency: This isn’t talked about much but is absolutely essential to building an engaged workforce. You need your balance of consequences to favor the things you want in your company. These things might differ but some examples are hardworking employees, innovation, and extra-role responsibility. If you want these things, reward them and for goodness sake don’t punish them. Not too many people intentionally punish good behavior, but it happens in subtle ways when you load up your superstars and when you tolerate under-performing employees.

Appreciation: It is not a sign of weakness to sincerely thank employees for doing their job. I have heard more managers than I can say question why you’d need to thank people for doing what you’re paying them to do. Yes, you’re paying them. Understood. And if you want a motivated and engaged workforce, you also need to thank them. This is really not debatable. To paraphrase an amazing transformational coach I know, the desire of every person is to contribute to the best of their ability and to be recognized for their contribution.

Mount Everest: Finally, if you want to build an unforgettable team, you need an (almost) insurmountable obstacle. Think back to the most amazing team you were ever part of. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that your example includes going through a storm together or accomplishing the nearly impossible. Don’t worry, there is no need to manufacture a crisis to gel a team, they are plentiful in today’s climate. Instead, use setbacks to work together to find new solutions.

If you are being intentional about doing these things now, congratulations! You probably are experiencing some amazing contributions from your employees. If you realize that your intentions are outpacing your actions, don’t worry…this is something you start any time and get results. And of course if you need help, that’s what leadership development coaches are for!


Is your Human Resources department a help or a headache?

Quite some time ago, I got so tired of hearing HR referred to as a ‘necessary evil’ that I refused to identify myself or my department as HR.  I banned the term and rebranded us as OD (Organizational Development).   I believe passionately that the team responsible for Talent Development is a strategic partner at the highest level of the organization with one of the toughest jobs.  Besides being knowledgeable on all current/applicable state and federal laws, one must also be a skilled communicator in order to convey to management and shareholders the benefits and risks of compliance and non-compliance.  This necessarily requires training and persuasion and the ability to communicate beyond just a perfunctory “because I told you so”.  

So many people get into HR because they ‘like people’ and are then disillusioned because of the preponderance of paperwork and the requirement to deal with unpleasant situations (like dress code, or hygiene…ugh).  Sadly, many HR professionals are taught case law and statutes but are not operationally educated enough to make good business cases for their ideas.  They know that employee culture is critical but can’t ‘sell’ it to the owners or stakeholders effectively.  This is absolutely changing and SPHR or SHRM-SCP designees must demonstrate proficiency in business strategy to obtain their certification.  But as both HR professionals and those who interface with them can tell you from experience, the emergencies and demands of the normal workday have a tendency to derail best laid plans and the HR team can become embittered enforcers; finding their value in creating a bureaucracy.  

What’s the cure?  Having created highly successful support teams for years, I’m convinced that there are things an HR leader must insist on in order for their team to be accepted as a strategic partner and to achieve credibility throughout the company. 
•    Create a customer service department.  Even if this must be repeated weekly, drill into every member of the team that they are there to support the company, not vice versa.  
•    Train the team on operational concepts. This helps with the previous point.  It also engenders respect for the team’s internal customers.  I’ve found there can be an unconscious arrogance from people who have been educated in management and leadership concepts when they encounter those managers who may be rough around the edges.  Education in the core business can eliminate that and help find common ground.
•    Train the team on finance.  It’s vital for the HR team to understand the fiscal aspect of the organization for many reasons.  When communicating policy or changes, it helps the team’s perspective to know the context of organizational performance.  It also helps the team help you (as a leader) prepare cost benefit analysis for the ideas they wish to implement.  It’s easy for an HR person to recommend a learning management system to track training, but you’ll get a much more thought out proposal when they have to justify the cost and/or prioritize this spend with other team suggestions.
•    Get involved with talent management beyond ‘morale’.  Yes, HR is often the corporate event coordinators, but to be a true strategic partner and to bring great value to the organization, it is important to become and expert on the organizational short and long term goals and what the human resource requirements are to achieve them.  This includes head count, training needs, succession plans and leadership development.

•    Understand the business.  Every position I have ever taken has been in an industry that was new to me, because HR is transferrable.  That does not mean you don’t need to learn it. Knowing how the industry functions makes you more effective at recruiting, leading the culture and will build credibility with your cross functional peers.
•    Build a department mission and vision, reinforcing the above

There’s more, but these are the essentials as I see them, and what have helped make me successful.  If you are not experiencing these things from your HR department, consider implementing some.  If you don’t know how…get ready for it…consider an outside source, coach or consultant to assist you.  (I know a great resource, as a matter of fact).