Diversity & Inclusion
During the holiday season, it’s common for employers to host one or more holiday soirees, but it’s also essential to ensure that holiday celebrations are a celebration for all faiths. By not targeting a specific holiday, such as Christmas, your bash can be one for all to enjoy! With the right strategy, companies can not only balance the differences, but truly embrace them creating an inclusive environment.
1. Planning. Instead of delegating all planning activities to one or two people, try to assemble a group of diverse colleagues to provide insight throughout the party planning process. This can be an opportunity to highlight many traditions in an inclusive manner. It can also help to reduce conflict with certain beliefs.
2. Timing. Rather than holding your holiday celebration at year-end, consider a New Year’s celebration instead. Not only does this help to reduce association with particular holidays or religions, but it can also serve as a kickoff for the company’s new calendar year. This is a great opportunity to celebrate the previous year’s successes and motivate employees to achieve goals and rally behind the company mission.
3. Decoration. Stick to neutral color pallets rather than colors like “blues and whites” or “reds and greens” which may be associated with a particular faith. Alternatively, you can theme the party to your company’s branding, which can be especially effective if timing the event to the kickoff of a new year. If you’ll be providing gifts or prizes, consider stacking them nicely on the ground or a table rather than placing them under a decorated tree.
4. Catering. Take a survey before the event to capture any food preferences or allergies of employees and their guests, such as kosher or vegetarian options. Additionally, it’s important for employers to be cognizant of alcohol consumption during a company event. Employers may decide to designate a period of time at the beginning and/or at the end of the celebration during which alcoholic beverages are not served. Employers may also choose to offer a festive non-alcoholic craft beverage for non-imbibers such as pregnant employees, or those unable to drink due to religious observation or other reasons.
Make Employees Feel Seen. Being an “inclusive” workplace is more than simply educating employees to say “Happy Holidays” to capture all affiliations or no affiliations. Inclusion begins with learning, and religious holidays are a great way to start that process. Employers can educate themselves about other faiths by investing in a multifaith calendar and learning more about the celebrations listed. Employers can also inquire into which holidays their employees observe and may be interested in educating others about, if they choose to do so. Whatever method you decide to take, the goal should be to celebrate uniqueness rather than focusing solely on commonalities.
In contrast, the holiday season may also be a time of grief or loneliness for some employees, for whom making them feel seen would look very differently. Don’t be afraid to sincerely ask, “How are you” while offering an open door if needed. Establishing events and activities as optional can allow for the separation some employees may desire from the festivities. Additionally, your Employee Assistance Program may offer counseling or other resources to support these individuals through a difficult time.
Emphasize Your Culture Through Policy. While certain localities and states require Anti-Harassment policies by law, a detailed policy is a recommended best practice for all employers and should specifically contain zero-tolerance language on harassment, such as religious harassment, along with the company’s complaint procedure should an employee feel as though they are being harassed.
Additionally, it is recommended for employers to craft a policy outlining the company’s process for accommodation requests, which includes accommodations for sincerely held religious beliefs. Religious accommodations may include (but are not limited to) such things as: an exception to the dress code, paid or unpaid time off, or intermittent breaks for prayer.
Time Off policies will typically be heavily utilized during the holiday season, and floating holidays are a great way for employers to provide flexibility in approving time off requests related to a religious holiday which falls outside of the Company’s regular paid holiday calendar. If providing floating holidays, employers should be aware of any state mandates which could require undesignated floating holidays to be treated like vacation for purposes of carryover and payout provisions.
Ongoing Celebration. You’ve spoken to your employees, invested in a multicultural calendar, and danced the night away at your annual soiree. Now keep the inclusion initiatives going! Holidays don’t just happen once a year, and efforts to be inclusive should be ongoing. Consider ways you can continue to educate employees about their peers’ beliefs/traditions, such as a team-oriented kosher cooking class while learning about Rosh Hashanah.
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