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How to Decorate Your Office for the Holidays Without Offending Anyone

Pumpkins are now rotting away in a garbage pile. The memory of your “Jersey Shore” costume malfunction while dressed up as Snookie is slowly fading out of your co-workers’ memories. And all but a few stale Jolly Ranchers are left from your Halloween loot. This can only mean one thing: It’s time to starting decorating for the holidays.


(Photo courtesy of Fcrippa on Flickr)

But before you race to erect that 8-foot-tall pink Christmas tree – complete with matching pink sequined angel – in your cubicle, it’s best to heed some basic protocol for in-office decorations.

After all, your goal is to inject a little seasonal cheer for yourself and your co-workers – not to install a potential fire hazard or offend anyone’s religious beliefs.

Most offices allow the decorating of both public and personal space … to some degree.

The International Facility Management Association – a research and educational organization with 20,000 members worldwide – conducted a survey on office decorating in 2006.

They found that a whopping 93 percent of survey responders decorated their offices for the holidays. And, 57 percent spent between $500 and $5,000 on office decorations.

While a majority of companies do some sort of holiday decorating, most of them have also heard complaints about it. The survey found that 85 percent of companies that do decorate their offices have had to change policies as a result of complaints about holiday decorating.

Cheri Baker, owner of Emergence Consulting in Seattle, blogged about the thankless job of sending out the annual “Holiday Policy” e-mail, which details what constitutes “appropriate workplace decor.”

One year, when employees were encouraged to put up “non-religious” items like trees and snowmen the barrage of angry reactions included:

– “Christmas trees are Christian, and therefore religious.”

– “Trees are symbols of pagan traditions, and therefore not secular.”

– “You can’t take the Christ out of Christmas no matter how hard you try.”

– “I hope that you in HR have a good ‘holiday’ even though you’ve sucked all of the joy out of our lives by telling us what we can and cannot do for our “holiday” celebrations. Scrooges!”

This year, instead of adding to the HR team’s holiday heartburn, we suggest staying under the “obnoxious, over-the-top holiday decor” radar by following these do’s and don’ts:

– Check in with your supervisor or with HR to make sure you’re allowed to decorate your personal space.

– Decorate before or after your scheduled shift, or on your lunch break.

– Use lights rated for indoor use and check to make sure no wires are exposed or frayed, or that any bulbs are broken. Look for smaller, more energy-efficient lights with an Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM) approval rating.

– Respect your neighbor’s space. Don’t allow your garland to stray into your co-worker’s cube or aggravate their allergies with your gingerbread-scented potpourri.

– Unplug lights or animated displays at the end of the day.

– Keep any overtly religious displays within the confines of your personal space. Outside your cubicle, opt for Frosty the Snowman or snowflakes.

– Make your decorations tasteful. You don’t want to be the Clark Griswold of your office. Skip the inflatable Santa snow globe and the model train display. Instead look for ways to incorporate seasonal colors onto your walls (think festive wrapping paper) and personal touches like a small tree or menorah.


– Assume that everyone enjoys Christmas Carols as much as you do. If you want to listen to that radio station that plays “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” 40 times an hour, wear headphones.

– Allow your decorations to distract you from getting your job done. Skip hanging up that fish that sings “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” every time someone walks by your desk.

– Create a potential fire hazard. If you’re using a fake tree, make sure it is carries a UL or FM approval rating. Water live trees regularly so they don’t dry out (another fire hazard). Make sure not to overload plugs at your desk or in common areas.

– Route cords through doorways or under rugs, which can create a walking hazard.

– Hang decorations on or near sprinklers, exit signs or smoke detectors.

Tree photo courtesy of aussiegold on Flickr

Desk photo courtesy of vmiramontes on Flickr

Posted by James Wilkie

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