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Holidays, Inclusion and the Workplace. Celebrate Belonging

Author: Kamil Ahmed

With the arrival of December in North America comes a slew of holiday events and celebrations all around us. From workplace activities to programming through school and decorations at stores and public spaces, tangible signals of what matters to many of us are visible everywhere. Holiday celebrations are windows into the values of people.

In the workplace, the ability to practice values are closely tied to feeling included and welcome. While some may feel as though the holiday season is pretty inclusive already with so many things labeled as ‘holiday celebrations’ opposed to ‘Christmas celebrations’, others are aware that their traditional holidays are not represented and a shift in language does not translate into action on its own. How employers acknowledge and advocate for diversity during this time influences various facets of company culture and employee engagement throughout the coming year.

Inclusive considerations:

  • One individual’s experience does not have to stand true for another’s. There is variance in how traditional holidays are recognized by observers. 
  • Some people don’t celebrate any holidays at all. 
  • Avoid making assumptions. Not knowing and asking is always better than expressing an assumption expecting validation. 
  • Inclusive holiday celebrations does not mean a lack of recognition of Christmas. Rather, it means avoiding assumptions about those who celebrate it, not imposing its celebration on others and making space for other celebrations all year.

Ask the right questions in the right way

We don’t want you to add every holiday that exists out there into your workplace calendar. While a diversity of team members will mean a diversity of traditions, a diversity of members does not guarantee a diversity in workplace celebrations. The best way to become aware of what employees value is by asking. 

Don’t just ask on an adhoc basis. Integrate asking into an existing workplace process to record dates important to employees. This could happen during the onboarding process through a question such as “what important dates would you like to see recognized at work?”

You could also create a new tool such as a workplace celebrations calendar that invites employees to add dates of significance and any details to a calendar visible by everyone. 

TIP: Remember to make any questions around traditional holidays entirely optional. 

Communicate dates of significance 

One of the hardest parts of fasting during Ramadan for me used to be fasting at former workplaces. Not because the summer day’s are long and there’s work to do — but because I had to explain to every one of my colleagues at lunch why I was not eating or drinking, all while not eating or drinking. 

When leadership or HR send out work-wide communications on dates of significance, they accomplish two key things:

  1. Take on the task of educating and spreading awareness of important dates and traditional holidays to all team members so that observers don’t have to. 
  2. Validate that said date of significance or traditional holiday and subsequently the people that recognize or celebrate them are important to this workplace. 

TIP: You can communicate dates of significance through a dedicated communication channel, the workplace celebrations calendar or a news/updates board. 

Communicate Inclusively

We know how powerful images and symbols can be in relaying information, demonstrating values and making associations. Whether it’s a digital poster promoting a workplace celebration or a welcome back email sent to staff on January 2nd, being cognizant of inclusive marketing practices is especially critical when it comes to representation of traditional holidays. This means:

  • Avoid imagery and language associated with Christmas like Christmas trees, wreaths, candles etc. These images can hold significance for some and not for others but images that involve winter, food, hot drinks or cozy blankets convey warmth to a wider audience without assuming or imposing beliefs. 
  • When you are sharing the coming of a traditional holiday to your team members as an effort to raise awareness for that holiday and to enable its observers to do so comfortably, do not use imagery or languages unfamiliar to you. Try and maintain a standard format for all holiday announcements. If you want to use specific imagery, research it and make sure those celebrating would feel comfortable with that. 

Celebrate equally, all year round

If you want to have a workplace Christmas party because you have done that every year, remember to do the same for any other dates of significance celebrated by your employees. If that’s not feasible, consider hosting a New Year’s themed workplace celebration that focuses on company achievements over the year and goals for the following year. 

Say some employees on your team bring Christmas decorations to the office every year to decorate the windows. You could ask them if they want to invite others onto the committee and decorate for Chinese New Year and Eid too because you have team members that have indicated they celebrate those holidays. 

TIP: If you send holiday cards to your employees around Christmas, consider some best practices for making holiday cards inclusive

Models for Inclusive Celebrations 

Many may not have to think twice about attending a social event or holiday celebration through work. For many others, the decision might not be so easy. One of the most inclusive things you can do at work is make celebrations optional. Remove pressure and expectation from employees to show up in ways they do not feel comfortable. Making holidays truly optional creates space for those employees who are experiencing the season differently. Whether struggling personally, dealing with the loss of a loved one, or just not interested in the celebration, for some, steering clear of celebrations is the best option. 

To recognize diverse dates of significance and offer flexibility to employees, you can consider offering employees floating holidays as part of your paid holiday schedule. Floating holidays give opportunity for holiday celebrations that may not be given time off otherwise.

TIP: Make sure to communicate that employees are not obligated to attend workplace holiday celebrations. It never hurts to take notice of those on your team who may need support and make a thoughtful effort to communicate your appreciation for them. 

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