A Holiday Lesson on Engagement: Treat Employees Less Like Scrooge, More Like Fezziwig

John Hollon employee experience, Employee Relations, Leadership

Given how terrible 2020 has been, nobody would blame you for being a Scrooge this holiday season.

But what if you just don’t identify with Scrooge?

Well, perhaps a more contemporary grouch would be a better choice — someone like the Grinch, especially the 1966 Chuck Jones version (no snickering, please; that’s contemporary for me) with the late, great Boris Karloff narrating and voicing the Grinch.

Either way, I’m always amazed at how two of the most popular Christmas characters of all time are a miserly, belittling boss and a holiday-hating creature who spews venom and lives in a cave.

There’s some deeper wisdom in that, I’m sure, but make of it what you will.

What I make of it is that nasty, grouchy people are frequently a lot more memorable than kind and caring ones, and that they stand out the most during a time of year when treating others with kindness is important.

A fond reminder of the best bosses

That’s why one of my favorite holiday characters is someone that most everyone has heard of but rarely thinks about very much. I like him because he always reminds me of the very best bosses I had the privilege of working with during the course of my career.

I won’t be surprised if you don’t know who I’m referring to. It’s Fezziwig, the kind and generous boss a young Ebenezer Scrooge had cherished memories of in Charles Dickens’ classic book A Christmas Carol.

Here’s how he’s described by the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

“Fezziwig (is) the generous employer of the young Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol … Fezziwig appears early in the story, during Scrooge’s encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge and the ghost visit Fezziwig’s workplace, where Scrooge was an apprentice, on Christmas Eve.

The generous Fezziwig hosts a lively party, and the vision gives Scrooge the opportunity to ponder the value of generosity. Scrooge sees the bright face of his former self and reflects on the kind old master’s generosity: “Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.

People focus on lots of different things during the holiday season, and Scrooge, in particular, gets a lot of attention. Fezziwig? He gets little mention if any at all.

Taking Fezziwig’s generosity to heart

Here’s my take: It’s clear that Fezziwig’s part of Scrooge’s story deserves a lot more attention because he reminds us of something pretty important — that leaders need to be generous, kind, and appreciative of those who work hard for them all year long.

I’ve loved bosses like Fezziwig — and they are few and far between — but I’ve also gritted my teeth and endured far too many Scrooge-like characters. What I’ve found is that the kindness of the Fezziwigs has only grown in my memories, while the cruel and indifferent nature of the Scrooges fades away.

One of the Fezziwig bosses I remember was a managing editor I had issues with when I first started working for him. The problem was that our styles clashed. We had our difficult moments, but all that was resolved over time. What I’m left with now are only fond memories, including how he loved to take all of us who worked for him out for a fancy lunch during the Christmas season.

This was always a pricey affair at a top shelf place, and it included champagne for those who wanted to imbibe. He went all out and really spared no expense.

More importantly, the gathering allowed each of us who attended an opportunity to reflect on our collective work and appreciate each other while celebrating outside the office. It was a feeling that lasted well beyond our holiday luncheon, and it helped fuel our work well into the New Year.

In fact, this holiday celebration made such a big impression on me that I vowed to do the same, and I held similar Christmas get-togethers with my own direct reports at newspapers and magazines from San Diego to Honolulu.

And one more thing: These special holiday events that celebrated the great work that the good people who worked for me helped drive home another message that’s important to remember during the Christmas season.

It’s this — showing your employees how much you appreciate their hard work helps to determine just how hard they will dig in when the heat is on and you really need them the most.

Want more highly engaged employees? Want a staff who will run through walls for you when the chips are down?

It’s actually pretty simple; make sure you treat your people a lot more like Fezziwig, and let your competitors act more like Scrooge.

That’s a lesson we would all do well to reflect on during the most wonderful time of the year.