Updated: Dec 15, 2021
The holiday season is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year” for Americans according to Andy William’s famous tune. But for some, this season can lead to feelings of exclusion and isolation due to one’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof. One of the places where these feelings can appear most prominently is in our workplaces, where every
passing December is fraught with holidays parties based on Christian values and traditions. While progress has been made in recent years, we are always finding new ways to make sure to create the most diverse and inclusive environment possible.
In fact, did you know there are over a dozen different holidays across religious denominations celebrated in the fall and winter months? In or around December there are eight major holiday celebrations for various religions, but the big three that are most discussed in the U.S. are Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. Because there is variety in celebrations, we need to make sure that our workplaces reflect this diversity when we choose to engage this season. Here are some ways that you can make your organization more inclusive this holiday season:
1. Calendar Clarity – While most Christian holidays are always blocked off organizational calendars because of their federal holiday status, other religious denominations’ holidays are not. To be equitable, offer appropriate time-off from work for employees who practice non-dominant religions to celebrate their chosen religious holidays without requiring them to exchange the time-off for their personal paid time-off (PTO) or “sick” days they may have. You can even start 2022 off strong by marking your calendar with all inter-faith holidays so celebrating religious diversity is a year-round tradition, not just held for December. It's also important to be mindful of holidays when scheduling important meetings and events.
2. Décor Galore – Often, workplaces and offices will decorate their space during the holiday season; while this may get the employees who choose to celebrate excited, it may cause others to feel uncomfortable. If you choose to decorate, a general rule of thumb would be to decorate for all holidays, not just Christian events, and add an educational element to the décor to inform those who view it of its significance for a particular religion or group.
3. It’s Party Time! – Hosting an office-wide holiday party should be just that, a holiday party whose title should not be defined or attached to any particular religion. Additionally, perhaps the most critical tip is that the party and any party related activities should be clearly specified as voluntary to prevent any employee from feeling like they must attend to “not offend their manager” or “not miss out on the next promotion”.
4. Diet Diversity – We all know one of the best parts of the holiday season is the sweet and savory foods that we get to enjoy during this time; however, not everyone is able to or even wants to indulge in them. Therefore, it is important that at any holiday event there is a diverse assortment of foods available to accommodate any dietary restrictions and needs of the attendees (i.e. gluten-free, vegan, etc.). Beyond food, it is also important to understand the comfortability of attendees with the presence of alcohol; for example, Muslims do not drink alcohol and may be uncomfortable being in its presence.
5. Celebrate Curiosity – The most critical thing you can do within your workplace is to celebrate your differences and encourage learning from and about each other during this holiday season. It is appropriate to ask a coworker what holiday greeting they prefer or if they have any holiday practices to be aware of, as long as the questions are respectful and come from a place of genuine curiosity.
These suggestions are just some of the many ways that you can make the workplace more inclusive this holiday season so that it really can be the most wonderful time of the year for everyone at your organization. Happy Holidays!
Sarah Jackson, M.S. is an IO & DEI consulting assistant at Mattingly Solutions and also a PhD candidate at Florida International University. Learn more about and connect with her here.