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Holidays in a Multicultural Workplace
Many workplaces like to share some “holiday joy” toward the end of the calendar year.
In order to ensure that this is a fun and positive experience that does not end in uncomfortable discussions in HR, it helps for leaders to keep a few things in mind.
Festivities should be inclusive, but optional. Don’t exclude people, and don’t force them to take part in parties, decorating the cubes, etc.
Use inclusive messaging. If your company sends out a Christmas card, consider how people who do not celebrate Christmas might feel marginalized by that. This is why “holiday cards” and “Happy Holidays” became mainstream—people cared about including ALL of their employees, not just the ones from a single religious background.
Any holiday displays that include imagery from a specific tradition should follow the “All are Welcome” mindset, as well. When I was growing up, that meant there was a menorah next to the Christmas tree. Recognize that, if there are going to be symbols from specific religious traditions, there may be issues—some people may want to include symbols that other people find offensive, and others may see the use of a symbol from their tradition as cultural appropriation. If you don’t want complaints like, “Someone put a Flying Spaghetti Monster in the manger scene I set up, and I am filing a lawsuit because I feel this is now a hostile work environment,” then consider having non-specific holiday decorations.
Consider offering a survey (I use SurveyMonkey for things like this) to ask your people what THEY would like and not like in an office holiday observance. People may just want a low-key event with some free food, a “Secret Santa” or “White Elephant” gift exchange, and take the money that would have been spent on a big party and add it to their holiday bonuses (or give them gift cards, preferably not to specific stores unless you know it’s one they like).
If serving alcohol, consider the issues of inappropriate behavior in the workplace, drunk driving, legal exposure if underage staff-members/interns get served, insurance liabilities, and the potential feelings of exclusion of non-drinkers (e.g., Mormons, Muslims, recovering alcoholics, etc.). If not having alcohol, let your staff members know in advance that BYOB is not appropriate, and make the event shorter.
It’s hard for many employers to get their staff members to come in during holiday times. Consider closing the office from about December 23rd through New Year’s, if that’s an option. For most businesses, nothing really gets done during this time, anyway. Your people will LOVE this, and they will love it even more if they know in advance and can plan for it. If that’s not an option, consider how you can fairly accommodate people’s requests for time off. And make sure that, if someone is coming in to “keep the lights on” while most of the other staff members are taking vacation days, you will help their morale with a bonus (preferably either money or “first dibs” on summer vacation days, not a sad little cupcake wrapped in plastic waiting in their cubicle for them to eat alone).