Celebrating Holidays with Inclusion

Hearing about the upcoming holidays should cause a major adrenaline rush to start wrapping up work right away and take a much-needed break to relax, rejuvenate and recharge. However, for many organizations, it can be a stressful time as they grapple to deal with the diverse needs of a global workforce. It can be a tough situation to ensure that people from every community, region, or religion feel respected and valued, especially during the holiday season.

Apart from the fact that being respectful is the right thing to do, respect for religion has also been found to improve engagement and retention. However, in a world where American corporations are increasingly becoming more important, it can be challenging to dissociate the holiday season and celebrations from Christian holidays. Hollywood is an important influence too, with Hollywood movies having 10-15% market share even in a country as diverse as India.

With employees from multiple faiths working together, it is a massive challenge to decide on what holidays to offer and which ones to not offer. However, companies can adopt some strategies to balance business needs and people needs and ensure that their people feel excited about holidays without feeling left out or ignored:

  1. Ask: Which holidays do people want? What days are of special significance to them? How would they like to be greeted on these days? Understand the demographics of your people instead of relying on internet research or third-party information.
  2. Create flexibility: Provide a set of ‘fixed’ holidays that would be applicable for all employees and a pool of ‘floating’ holidays that people can choose from. For example, for an American company, Christmas could be a fixed holiday and Diwali, Eid, and Hanukkah could be floating holidays, which people from different faiths could choose from.
  3. Communicate respectfully: Not all holidays are ‘happy holidays’. Whether it is Good Friday, Muharram, Yom Kippur, or others –there are holidays that are solemn or mournful occasions. Ensure that your messaging for these does not cause disrespect or offense.
  4. Have supportive policies: For some occasions, people might value flexibility more than holidays. For example, in the holy month of Ramazan, Muslim employees may value flexibility in terms of working hours to address their need to end the day early and break their fasts. Ensure that your policies support such needs or consider providing exceptions to people at certain times.
  5. Celebrate events respectfully: Be respectful of practices and faiths during in-person celebrations and company events. For example, people of certain faiths and beliefs do not consume alcohol or certain types of meat. Recovering alcoholics might be offended by gifts involving alcohol. During times of natural calamities, pandemics, or other disasters, ensure that you offer remembrance and empathy towards all those who have suffered.

It is certainly a great idea to celebrate together and to have fun during the holidays. The intent is not to turn holidays into a tightrope walk with a risk of failure at every step. However, by encouraging people to be inclusive and respectful and to share their traditions, culture, and celebrations with others, you can create an environment of trust and safety. Help people ask questions and learn about other cultures and be more accepting of mistakes if someone accidentally makes one.

Enjoy the holidays and help others enjoy them too!

About the Author

Sumit Singla 

Founder of eleventHR Consulting.

Sumit has been working in HR & HR consulting roles for 16+
years across sectors and verticals and specializes in
organization design, wellbeing, storytelling & design thinking, and performance management. In his career with consulting firms such as Aon, Deloitte, and Accenture, he has successfully led programs aimed at total HR transformation for clients.

 Recently, as Associate Director for India Consulting at Deloitte, he worked with clients on cultural transformation and HR process and policy design. He also organized and spoke at conferences and events about a variety of topics relevant to HR today.

Now self-employed, he works with clients across the globe on a variety of HR solution areas.

Sumit Singla
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