How inclusive holiday celebrations in the workplace are bigger than ‘the season’
Engagement 5 minute read

How inclusive holiday celebrations in the workplace are bigger than ‘the season’

Megan Orr | December 5, 2023

Happy Holidays; Merry Christmas; Season’s Greetings; Happy Hanukkah! The sentiments are all the same—wishing people well during this time of year—but they have very different meanings. Learn why inclusive holiday celebrations create a better workplace and how you can host one this year.

There’s a tendency for holiday celebrations in the workplace to be very Christmas-centered, but as Human Resources Director Canada writes, there are many “additional holidays such as Eid al-Fitr, Ramadan's festival of gift-giving (Muslims), Hanukkah (Jewish), Kwanzaa (African-Americans) and Pancha Ganapati (Hindu) [that] may also be celebrated in December, depending on the lunar calendar”.

Forbes writes that while some people “may bemoan the fact that everything is labeled a holiday celebration vs. simply saying Christmas… others are highly aware that their holiday traditions are completely absent from representation and most likely not welcome in the conversation”.

Year-end celebrations in the workplace are to show appreciation for employees, so employers should aim to host inclusive holiday celebrations, no matter what employees celebrate—or don’t celebrate—in the month of December. As SHRM puts it, “if employees are worried about hiding an essential element of who they are, such as their deeply held religious beliefs”, they won’t feel safe to be themselves at work, let alone celebrate with their colleagues.

The fall and winter seasons can be an emotional time for people and the way that employers handle the holidays can have implications on the employee experience throughout the entire year. Experts note that “if even just a small number of employees feel excluded, it can have a negative impact on an organization’s engagement and productivity”. 

In Canada, there are no restrictions preventing any religious celebrations in the workplace.

Although not everyone likes to share their religious beliefs in the workplace, it’s likely that most employers will have a general idea of how their employees celebrate. If in doubt, ask. Employees don’t have to share anything if they don’t want to share, of course, but asking if there are any practices they would like to incorporate into holiday work events can be a great way to ensure holiday celebration inclusivity. 

Human Resources Director Canada writes that employers should “involve employees in the planning of holiday events and decorating, ask them how they prefer to celebrate, and encourage them to share their holiday traditions if they feel comfortable doing so. Holiday decorations and celebrations should seek to educate, not discriminate”.

Human Resources Director Canada continues to say that employers should invite employees to “celebrate the ‘holidays’ with a focus on shared values such as joy, hope, peace, giving, and the importance of family & friends”. 

Here are some ways that you can create more inclusive holiday celebrations:

  • Use a diverse party planning committee, made up of people from different backgrounds and religions to ensure that your organization plans a celebration that is truly representative of all of your employees. It’s also important to remember that not everyone of the same faith chooses to celebrate in the same way. 
  • Language matters. Say non-denominational holiday greetings such as “happy holidays” or, if everyone is comfortable, use ones that are specific to an individual's own beliefs. 
  • If you’re putting up decorations, either keep them non-denominational or be sure to include every religion. As an example, red and green are colours typically associated with Christmas, whereas blue and white are traditionally used for Hanukkah celebrations. 
  • Consider hosting a multicultural potluck where coworkers bring in a variety of ethnic dishes. Alternatively, if your workplace is still working predominantly remote, you can compile employee recipes in a shareable holiday cookbook. 
  • If you’re opting for in-person celebrations, offer options that suit all diets and lifestyles, such as non-alcoholic drinks and vegetarian/vegan food. 
  • Avoid scheduling holiday celebrations on any days that people might be celebrating personally. Diversity Resources has compiled a list of different religious holidays and celebrations in the fall and winter. The list can be found here.
  • If you plan on serving alcohol, consider having the party in stages where the second part includes alcohol and the first doesn’t, so that those who want to attend but are potentially uncomfortable with drinking are able to leave before the alcohol comes out.

Make attendance and participation optional, and actually mean it.

  • Ensure that everyone in leadership understands the event is optional and that employees are not required to participate. Many people prefer not to celebrate at work for various reasons and they shouldn’t have to explain or face potential repercussions because of it.  
  • Consider hosting the party in the new year. This is a way to acknowledge the passing of time and celebrate employees, without it being tied to any one specific holiday. 

Hosting inclusive holiday celebrations is a great way to show employees that you care about them on a personal level and appreciate all their hard work. We wish you happy holidays and even happier employee celebrations. 

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