January 7, 2019
The struggle is real

The Christmas party I always wanted

The Struggle is Real by Renee Diaz

The Struggle is Real

In 2017, Renee Diaz moved her upstart cupcake business The Queen's Cups from Millbury into a larger space in Worcester's Canal District. With a year of lessons learned, she now writes the monthly advice column The Struggle is Real to help entrepreneurs and business owners navigate their own trials and tribulations.

Read the other The Struggle is Real columns:

Entrepreneurship isn't wonderful all the time

A beauty queen and a BBQ king saved my soul

Being a baker is not my dream job

Guacamole, pink cookies and why I provide extra paid maternity leave

Why I know all of my staff's birthdays

This past Christmas, I had a holiday party for my staff. On a Sunday after we closed, I made sure to have our favorite dishes from nearby restaurant Maddi's Cookery & Taphouse all set up for my crew. Under our Christmas tree, I placed their presents from my husband and I. Twenty-five employees all in one room, enjoying each other's company and some really tasty food.

We had been looking forward to this holiday party since our Thanksgiving potluck where all of their families were invited to join us. This time around, I really wanted to have time with my staff. Since not everyone works together, it was special to have everyone in the same room. I really wanted to make sure I personally shopped for each of their gifts. I paid close attention to what they mentioned they wanted. This is a luxury I may not always be able to do, but after having our best year yet, it was important to show them how much I appreciate their hard work and who they are as people. My mom, who had a total knee replacement, surprised our staff and attended the party, too. Her presence is missed, and the staff enjoyed seeing her.

The party lasted a few hours, with employees coming and going, but it was a heartwarming experience. I found myself getting emotional throughout just realizing what kind of bond we have created. Some of these employees do not have much. They have parents who work multiple jobs just trying to provide for their families. Some are financially responsible for their families at young ages, and others never treat themselves, no matter how much they work. Toward the end of the party, some said they did not want to go home. Those words were among the greatest compliments I have received in seven years of business. They did not want to go home, not because of their home life, but because they enjoyed the company of their fellow employees.

I held back tears throughout the gathering. My kitchen staff surprised me with an authentic Irish sweater straight from Ireland. I had mentioned that I wanted one, and they surprised me. When I saw the gift, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Not for the gift itself, but the thoughtfulness behind it. All I wanted to do was provide them with a good time, as the holidays can unfortunately bring out negativity in families, and here was my staff treating me with so much love. My favorite gifts were the cards they gave me. They were filled with such sweet words. This is the type of community I had always wished to create at The Queen's Cups.

That night, I drove some of my staff home. I realized I am not just providing them a job. I am providing them with love, guidance and protection. I have employees who take the bus to work or have to walk. I was lucky enough to get my license at their age and have a car. I have not had to deal with the struggles they experience. The older I get, and the more people I employ, the more thankful I am for my parents for how they raised my brothers and I. They did whatever they could for us. On the ride home, I talked to one of my employees about her life. I feel for her and give her advice. She is going to go far in life, and I hope to be a role model for her.

I have been raised to be a thoughtful person; someone who would give you the shirt off my back. This has not always been reciprocated; and I spent a lot of my adulthood bitter about how others have treated me. When I realized what matters are the people who respect you – not the ones who don't – the world around me changed. I have been told not to involve myself in the lives of my staff, not to get too close because people come and go, and we do not know their intentions. I have tried that, and it did not feel right. I keep a short distance, but you spend the most time with the people you work with. So, I ask myself, why not provide them with a loving and caring environment where they feel protected and appreciated? If I can treat them this way, and my managers can too, we will change the business world.

Renee Diaz is the owner of The Queen's Cups bakery in Worcester.

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