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Celebrating diversity in the workplace during the holidays

wall with poster hanging up with quote inside
Gabrielle Dalvet
Published on

May everyone’s days be merry and bright, no matter their religion.

Between November 1st and January 15th, there are over 29 holidays observed by 7 of the world’s major religions. And yet in many US companies, policies and celebrations often center around one. Celebrating diversity in the workplace, especially during the holiday season, is key to keeping employees happy long-term. We researched some best practices to help you make sure everyone in your workplace feels comfortable, included, and respected.

A few philosophies on workplace diversity to consider:

"It's more than just changing labels and titles; build understanding and awareness of traditions and beliefs of others."  — The Balance

Celebrate commonalities, but provide space to share the differences. Have a workplace where each employee has freedom, respect, and dignity


General tips for an inclusive culture in the workplace:

  • Understand that some people will not want to celebrate anything and some people will want to celebrate something completely different. No matter what approach you take to encouraging diversity in the workplace.
  • Take an interest in your colleagues holiday plans and make them feel welcome to share. But again don’t push it if they don’t feel comfortable.
  • Be sure company-wide guidelines are open to all religions and backgrounds, like dress code. Sometimes bias causes one to overlook subtle guidelines that may restrict certain religions.
  • Offer a prayer or meditation space.
  • Include vegetarian options in all food offerings as many religions have strict diets.
  • Schedule important meetings, events, and parties on days that do not interfere with any major religious holidays across cultures. People may want to take that time off or may be fasting during the daytime.
  • Host a seminar or workshop on diversity and inclusivity, like Sodexo’s Spirit of Inclusion workshop.

Ways to encourage time off for other religious holidays:

  • Implement a flexible schedule environment, or “take what you need” policy.
  • Offer floating holidays as part of paid holiday policy.    "78% of the top fifty most diverse companies in the US reported having floating religious holidays." DiversityInc. reports.
  • In a more regimented environment, encourage voluntary shift switches.
  • Consider offering the colleague a new role within the organization if the existing job schedule is too challenging with their religious schedule.

How to make sure everyone at the company actually feels comfortable:

  • Create an advocacy group, with a diverse panel of members itself, that can both collect and communicate feedback to stakeholders. If your company is larger, you could also create specific advocacy groups for each religion.

At American Express, "there are longstanding religious groups for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. All three groups are encouraged to educate their colleagues about their culture and share their traditions. The groups host events around the holidays. While the company has no formal policy regarding office decorations, all employees are encouraged to express themselves in a manner that is respectful of those around them.”

  • Provide an avenue for employees to communicate feedback directly to stakeholders, with the option to make it anonymous (and trusted as such).

Guidelines for throwing an inclusive end of year holiday party:

  • If it’s not obvious already, don’t make the party specific to any one religion.
  • Try out these alternative names: New Year’s Party, Winterfest, Winter Celebrations, End of Year Party, Solstice Observances.
  • Include plenty of non-alcoholic options, not just one or two. Craft mocktails may be a nice gesture here. In addition to religious reasons, many people do not drink due to a personal decision, health, or pregnancy. Having an option outside of water and soda is a thoughtful move.
  • Serve vegetarian options, non-pork, and non-combo pork/dairy options for various non-religious and religious diets.
  • Find out what type of holiday party everyone wants to have. Survey your employees, perhaps through the Advocacy Group, to anonymously collect information. Do people want a neutral party, or would everyone prefer to share individual cultures? It may depend on how close and open people feel with each other. If even one person answers “no” to the latter, avoid the sharing approach entirely.
  • Pick a date that is not a religious holiday already so that no employees miss out.

What are the major religious holidays across cultures for the end of year holiday season?

Major Holidays - Diversity in the Workplace - Robin

*Please note, this is only a partial representation of more well known holidays 11/1/17-1/15/18. For a more complete list, please see here for 2017 and here for 2018.

And with that, we wish you happy holidays. Let us know how you celebrate diversity in the workplace! If you’re looking to leave work early this holiday season, read up on our recommendations to skip town.

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