Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Nothing was stirring, not even a mouse.
Lo! What’s that noise, someone quietly sobbing?
An interloper sat beside Santa’s fire
while he’s gone a-jobbing.
Stop this silly iambic pentameter; kids don’t go for that anymore you say!
“What’s wrong dear lady, why the tears?”
Fat, hot blobs run down her cheeks (and a fair bit of snot too, but we’re too polite to say).
“I’m just so relieved to have made it through another year in one piece, and at last I am on annual leave until the 1st February. I’m exhausted. These are tears of relief and tiredness, I am wrung out” The poor woman says.
The poor woman clearly has no one to talk to and the old man and his entourage are out of the house for the next 23 and a half hours. We settle down with a cup of tea on the enormous Santa Sofa, the fire is burning merrily, and we let the poor woman offload her troubles.
Her name is HR Manager.
“Working for Santa is no easy task, although the main event happens only once a year, it takes months of planning and organisation. Although everyone thinks it’s just the old man himself, Elves and transport, they’re wrong. There is a whole organisation behind Santa, and they come with all the challenges that any group of people represent when they get together in the name of a common purpose.
Santa is always saying “It’s a team effort you know, I couldn’t do it without you all” apart from one or two who openly and spitefully acknowledge this (the Elf n Safety Manager and the Logistics Manager in particular, more on them later) most at least have the good grace to quietly accept this statement to preserve the magic.
Their grievances and seething resentments are at least contained to the HQ at North Pole. That’s where I come in. Last year I heard a record 127 grievances, the last one was only resolved last week, none of the reindeer wanted to be positioned directly behind Rudolph. Only after a complex mediation session involving all the reindeer and of course Rudolph, were we able to sort it out. I tell you, every year I am amazed that Christmas Eve gets off the ground at all!
Let’s take a look at the team.
Mary Christmas, aka Mrs Christmas
She holds no official position, but is widely acknowledged as Santa’s key strategic advisor. She leads on Leadership and Organisational Development. They seem to spend hours and hours in discussion, drinking gallons of tea and delivering nothing. When she was once challenged about this by a disgruntled Elf, Mary said that actually the discussions were Santa’s Performance Coaching sessions and therefore very important but confidential to him, and she also delivered the staff conference for the past 25 years. Upon further clarification the staff conference was revealed to be the annual dinner party – of course we can’t have ours in December like most people so it is a picnic or B-B-Q in June. Her influence over Santa causes great resentment in many quarters, but of course he won’t hear of anything other than keeping her where she is, (a deputation asked me to do something about it a few years ago – it was a very short conversation)
Everyone loves Rudolph right? Well, that’s the result of some fantastic PR (a company we keep on retainer, they wrote a merry little song years ago and so now we really don’t have to engage with them much at all, the marketing practically does itself)
In real life he’s a nasty piece of work. I get more grievances about him than anyone else in the team. He is lazy, turns up late everyday and is paid more than the other reindeers which as you can imagine is the cause of lots of grief. Until a few years ago this was just grumbling based on gossip, but then about four years ago one of the female reindeer put in an FOI and the salary data was revealed, she and all the other female reindeer are now pursuing an Equal Pay claim. I absolutely support them to do that, but as you can imagine it makes teamwork very uncomfortable in the run up to Christmas when he is so obviously lazy.
Between you and me, the females also tell me they call him “shag nasty”, its pretty much been an unspoken joke for years now, but you only have to look at the majority of children in the reindeer nursery attached to HQ, most of them have little red noses.
I suppose he’ll get his just desserts in the end, he thinks he’s indispensable, but soon one of the younger reindeer will be big enough and old enough to take his place. He’s too stupid to know that the law on retirement has changed; we’ll take a risk and retire him.
Santa’s Nutrition and Fitness Advisor
Probably the most important person who holds an official position in our organisation. Closest to Santa after Mary, he spends the year ensuring that Santa is in tip top condition for Christmas Eve. He tells me it’s a very complex job, but in simple terms they spend September to 23rd December building Santa up in weight, strength and stamina. Santa gets January and February off as annual leave so he is allowed to relax but with a gentle weaning diet and exercise regime, and then March to September is spent intensively “looking after Santa’s well being” through diet and exercise. Apparently.
They’re a great bunch of guys. They are on the whole a really good group to work with, they’re well organised amongst themselves and know the job and just get on with it. They are (on paper anyway) heavily unionised. Their rep is really quite good to work with, each year around October I receive their annual dispute, I’m amazed at the range of complaints they come up with, this year it was to do with the complexity of small, fiddly toys that they have to assemble causing us to have to implement some very expensive workplace adjustments to the workstations, it was so expensive because of the short timescales to ensure that we could stay on track for target date 23rd December. Usually the dispute is a pay one, they call a strike, we sort it out and we carry on. This year though I don’t think even the most audacious rep felt able to call the Elves out over pay.
The toughest challenge regarding the Elves is the massive recruitment campaign each year, it starts in June and despite a really clear process, there is always some spanner in the works, we get the majority through induction in September, but there are always a dozen or so latecomers because their CRB and other pre-employment checks cannot be sorted out in time. This year the last new joiners started 9th December. We just have to shove them to the back for this Christmas and train them properly for next year, if they stay of course. Lots just hang around for the big annual party, it has such a wild reputation, but many leave after that. We don’t even get a year out of them, or any real work. Shame.
These guys are mostly quite pleasant to work with, they are a professional body and I get regularly invited to workshops, seminars and conferences with them or to go on behalf of them to fact finding events. They seem to spend years talking about the same subject but re-labelled every few years as something slightly different. The current subject doing the rounds is whether they should be doing anything about the threat of digital technology. So far they have concluded, no. But they will keep talking about it and keep it under review.
As long as their pay and conditions are right, warm stable, plenty of food, right weather conditions (a little bit hard to get right sometimes) they are generally a pleasure to work with. As I said before the real fly in the ointment is Rudolph. The Equal Pay claim will be resolved; we’re in Employment Tribunal in March. Hopefully once that is settled we will at least have some harmony back in the team, oh except 3 of the girls are pregnant at the moment so you can imagine that causes some emotional upset. None of them are saying who the father is – we can all guess.
The Logistics Manager
This guy thinks he’s the most important person in the company, even more important than Santa. He goes around saying loudly “none of this would get off the ground without me”
He swaggers around from about July onwards with a clipboard and talking loudly about carrying out “ve hier cle checks”. This year he got us to fill in a questionnaire that asked us to think about logistics and transport issues and risks. I thought that was his job personally. He said that it was so we would understand his role better and help us to feel more included. He did say that one or two contributions were a really good idea and he would take account of them next year. Mostly we just think he is a pompous idiot who appears to have forgotten one really important thing, we all know the 24 hour, sleigh around the world thing is achieved by magic. So, well that kind of makes him redundant really doesn’t it. I must add that to my to do list for early next year.
The Elf n Safety Manager
Another clip board wielding, high visibility jacket wearing colleague. He’s great friends with the Logistics Manager; he checks the vehicle checks apparently. Actually he also delivers some really boring but important training, carries out all the toy risk assessments as well as the safe systems of work, especially those involving snow. So although this is another in the “team pompous” camp, actually we couldn’t do without this chap. I will have to remember to refer him to the Employee Assistance Programme though when we make The Logistics Manager redundant, they’re always together and the Elf n Safety Manager often appears a bit fragile and unloved. I don’t want him off with stress for months due to survivor syndrome.
The Chief Technology Officer
Last but not least, the CTO. This is one of those appointments that seemed absolutely critical at the time, but now none of us can really remember why. I can remember of course, its one of my greatest embarrassments.
Remember the millennium bug, Y2K, the end of the world when clock struck midnight at 1999 into 2000 or some other year depending on who you listened to? Back in about 1997 Santa got a real bee in his bonnet about the threats, in particular that everything would come grinding to a halt, and Mary spent months winding him up about preparing her millennium cupboard, which was their food store should everything really come grinding to a halt.
After months of harassing me about it, Santa won and we recruited a CTO in 1998 to help us prepare for Y2K. It was such a critical issue, and the debate on the impact of digital technology going forward, that we offered this eye wateringly, completely off the market rate salary in order to attract blue chip candidates. Anyway, this chap was successful at Assessment Centre, good reassuring OPQ scores and did really well at interview – well didn’t appear to be an axe murderer or complete loser. Santa was so keen to secure him, I prepared an amazing contract. In fact it’s so fantastic it will cost us a fortune to get rid of him, which is a shame really because by about 2003 when it was apparent the world wasn’t going to come to an end by some bug or other, and the reindeer will continue to fly – no digital technology needed, his appointment seems a bit pointless really. These days he does something to do with strategy, I’m not sure what really, but he always looks very studious and sounds very serious when he occasionally speaks at Senior Team meetings. I even persuaded him to come to one of those Reindeer workshops with me; he got very excited and started a whole new work stream when he got back. It’s due to deliver in 2015.
The annual bash (staff conference)
Some people love this – there is always plenty of free food and drink, this is Santa’s way of saying thank you. Personally I hate it and wish I didn’t have to go, but there is a three line whip on attendance.
It generally goes like this, Mary does some fun stuff on leadership and teamwork in the morning, it usually involves blindfolds, climbing objects and talking to people in other teams “mixing it up a bit” to get to know everyone in the organisation. What she’s failed to notice is that we all work together all year round and so know what we need to know anyway.
Santa does his bit. It’s normally quite lovely and more than a few people get choked up. They really do love him. Last year during Santa’s speech I did a bit of people watching, the ones who really do love him compete to get seats near the front, and after a really touching speech there was lots of hugging and kissing (problem later – got a couple of grievances out of that) but it seemed lovely at the time. The crowd at the back though, the ones for whom it is clearly just a way to pay the bills, well they were so rude, talking carrying on their conversations, nose picking, arguing, there was even a couple of people snogging at the back. I was told later in the grievance hearing in mitigation they were drunk and had both mistaken each other for someone else, i.e. their real partners.
I always leave the annual bash early, last year Mary accidentally revealed that the Elves would be going through a major restructuring and change programme over the next couple of years while we were still eating dinner. Needless to say as soon as it was out their rep wanted to talk about it “here and now”. I didn’t finish my dinner and it ensured that once everyone had had a drink or two the evening do got fairly lively.
I always hear about it afterwards anyway. Which people can no longer work with each other, there are always several grievances immediately, and then half a dozen later in the year after matters have simmered and seethed away for several months. I just can’t bear to witness it for myself.
So there we go, it’s been a busy year, and I haven’t touched on actually getting the toys ready, the massive workload that just seems to go up year on year, with a shrinking, aging workforce… and this year the training budget was cut too. Oh and then there’s the chaos caused by snow, but that’s for another time.
Thanks for listening; I really don’t ever get the chance to share any of this. I feel lots better. Another cup of tea?