July 26, 2023
The end-of-year holidays always make me remember the different ways companies marked the occasions. In later years, perhaps because of my long things-to-do-before-year-end list, it seemed there was less enthusiasm for celebration on the organization level. Or maybe it was just tougher drunk driving laws putting the damper on those office parties. My first exposure to “industrial strength good deeds” was being drafted into the holiday ham and turkey distribution crew while I was an apprentice. The company employed over three thousand people at that point so getting a large piece of meat into each of their hands was no small undertaking. Someone had to create and maintain an eligibility list; not only were employees included but retirees, their widows or widowers, and certain “friends of the firm.” Over the years, a fairly accurate formula had been derived to determine how many wanted hams and how many wanted turkeys. The logistics were a bit of a nightmare as we operated on a 24/7 basis and there were multiple locations. Some of you are no doubt wondering why they just did not give everyone a gift certificate for a local grocery store. I thought the same thing even before my first experience of standing in a refrigerated trailer and tossing frozen turkeys and hams to the hungry mob. By the way, the job of tossing was preferred to the actual distributing of the gifts as some recipients were quite competitive with regard to the weight of their gift and hard feelings were not easy to tamp down. The distribution was a carryover from the early days when the owners and managers thought it was important to demonstrate to the community that they personally cared about their “people.” A physical gift was more memorable than a slip of paper. Eventually, as time passed between private and corporate ownership, the gift certificate’s cost effectiveness won out. Someone probably even developed a formula for how many actually got turned in and how much money the company saved as a result. Somehow, evaluating the cost effectiveness of a gift diminishes the entire experience. And I say that despite the sore muscles and mild frostbite of several meat-tossing sessions.