What are you celebrating today?
Even if nothing comes to mind, you may be reading this on a Buddhist or Jewish holiday. Maybe Halloween. Or then there’s World Allergy Awareness Day, World Kindness Day, or International Coffee Day. With every day of the year commemorating something, prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion can feel overwhelming. You want to make an effort, but it’s challenging to decide which federal, cultural, and popular holidays to recognize. Here’s how to make holidays more inclusive at work.
While it’s safe to say no one expects the day off for National Chicken and Waffles Day, there are still many holidays that have meaning for your staff. Important non-Christian holidays include Ramadan for Muslims, Yom Kippur for Jews, and Diwali for Hindus. Juneteenth, Chinese New Year, LGBTQ Pride Month, Kwanzaa, and Native American Day may also resonate with your employees.
Some of these prompt celebration, but others recognize a difficult event. Instead of a public party, someone commemorating a day such as Día de los Muertos may want to be in a small group of family to reflect. The different meanings for different people requires those in charge of employee experience to inform themselves about various cultures and how to respect and support them.
Ignoring diversity until someone complains or, worse, takes legal action, can be costly. Even if it never comes to that, failing to appreciate diverse beliefs can negatively impact your talent management. The following strategies can help you cultivate a culture of goodwill by helping all employees feel seen, respected, and appreciated.
1. Build awareness
Focusing only on federal and Christian holidays can convey that certain people don’t matter as much. You could be sending the message, albeit unintentionally, that some people’s beliefs and values are less worthy and should be kept out of the workplace.
Develop awareness of what your employees want to celebrate, and how they will do so. You can start by allowing space for non-dominant holidays by creating an inclusive holiday calendar for your company. You might also spread knowledge and encourage understanding by informing people of different traditions in company communications.
Avoid putting people on the spot to explain their holidays or observations. Instead, you might discuss holidays in general in a way that invites them to share, but does not require them to do so.
This helps create a more inclusive work environment. Otherwise, you risk leaving out or exoticizing certain populations of people, which can undermine employee morale and connection with your workplace culture.
2. Involve a variety of people in planning
By incorporating employees of different faiths in planning your holiday calendar and preparing any company-wide events, you are more likely to account for all perspectives.
Taking an interfaith approach to planning can also help avoid conflicting scheduling. Even if you don’t have a diverse group establishing your holiday calendar, be sure to consult an interfaith calendar to balance your attention for important events from varied cultures throughout the year.
3. Be flexible
Offering employees floating days off gives them flexibility to observe their own holidays. Some companies create a calendar of holidays or public observance they don’t otherwise pay for, and let employees choose from that menu. You may allow more freedom than that, but you’ll want to establish a policy for how to schedule and report these holidays.
You can also make attending your company events voluntary. This allows individuals to feel more comfortable with missing events that may not suit their beliefs. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, will typically prefer not attending holiday events. Ensure also that not only HR has an official policy of accepting people’s individual choices, but managers also understand the importance of being equally understanding.
Gift exchanges should be voluntary as well. You can invite people to participate, perhaps by signing up online. But work to ensure that your staff see this as a voluntary activity.
4. Provide options
Offering options is an offshoot of flexibility. A winter holiday party, for example, should have multiple food options. Plan a menu that accommodates kosher, halal, vegetarian and other dietary preferences.
Having an office party where alcohol is present may make Muslim employees uncomfortable. Secular music and dancing could also prove problematic. You might account for this by scheduling time without alcohol and dancing, then have another stage of the party that lets those who want to drink and dance do so.
5. Invite involvement outside of the office
Having a group of employees meet up to walk in the local Pride Parade or participate in different heritage festivals can help develop common understanding. Your organization demonstrates its awareness of the need for inclusivity while providing people with an opportunity to expand their perspectives and educate themselves.
Again, these opportunities should be entirely voluntary without recrimination for anyone who chooses not to attend.
6. Ask your employees
You might think it’s a great idea to ask certain employees to share more about their faith, but they may not appreciate being put on the spot. Find out what holidays are important to your people and how they want to celebrate them by asking. You might do this during onboarding or via employee surveys.
You might ask open-ended questions such as “What holidays would you like to see us recognize?” or “What cultural celebrations are important to you?” Or you could measure agreement with statements such as “Our organization treats people from all backgrounds fairly” or “I am comfortable sharing my background and experiences with my organization.”
Invite people to provide feedback anonymously. After surveying your employees for feedback about holidays and how to mark them, follow up. Make an announcement to your company about your findings. Acknowledge any changes you plan to make as a result of employee input. This is one more way to help people feel like they have a voice in your culture.
Building a more inclusive workforce
With many differences not immediately visible, you need to make a conscious effort to recognize diversity and ensure that employees feel that they can be their true selves at work.