As more and more companies begin to recognize the value of a diverse workforce — a wealth of perspectives, new opportunities for growth and more — it's important to remember that holiday celebrations should be inclusive, too.
Parties and other traditions can be a reflection not only of corporate culture, but of employees' cultures as well. And as many employers use this season to show their appreciation for workers, it's worth your time and effort to make sure all employees are acknowledged.
Celebrations remain worthwhile
With the focus sometimes falling to Christmas and all its trappings (and stress), it’s important to remember that some employees (and customers) don't celebrate the holiday. And while some may be tempted to skip the parties completely to avoid problems, you don’t have to throw in the embroidered-snowman towel just yet.
Celebrations open kinship opportunities: They're times when employees let their hair down and mingle with others with whom they might not otherwise interact. These interactions have value and employers should try to create them whenever possible. To balance the desire to celebrate against the risk of offense, start with a plan for inclusion.
Planning on inclusivity
At the planning stages, you can ask for volunteers for a party committee that is as reflective of your workforce as possible. The committee can make decisions or survey employees for suggestions. Also, consider anonymous surveys: Many employees will say things don’t bother them when asked directly, but may voice concerns when given a chance to do so anonymously.
Other things to consider and request input on include: the timing of the event, whether to include family members; whether there will be alcohol or gifts; and, most importantly, how you can make sure everyone is represented and included
Food presents a major opportunity to do this, says Marjorie Stamper-Kurn, equity, diversity and inclusion consultant at M S-K Connections. “When planning that holiday party, make sure your catering plan includes non-pork and vegetarian options. There should always be attractive non-alcoholic beverages to accommodate those that don’t drink for religious or health reasons.”
The planning committee also might consider decorations that either represent all cultures or are neutral enough to represent none. Pine cones, poinsettias and snowflakes evoke the winter season rather than a specific holiday, for example; the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers some help in its compliance manual.
Alternatively, the committee could invite workers to create ornaments that represent them or their work. Or you might unload some of the company gear that’s been cluttering up the stock room and make a swag tree; when the holidays are over, take down the tree and distribute the "ornaments."
Getting to the core of your values
Stamper-Kurn recommends creating or tying traditions to the company’s core values. “Hopefully, your employees know how to express the company values while performing their daily job functions," she said. "Those same values should be guides for planning holiday season activities and establishing company traditions."
"If 'collaboration' is a core value, enable ways for each team or function to participate in the creation of the holiday tradition. If 'environmental stewardship' is a stated company value, be sure that the holiday party decorations and catering does not result in excessive waste," she suggested.
Timing is everything
Not sure when to host the party? “Ask!" says Rea Abrahams, Culture Strategist at CultureIQ. "Every year we send a survey asking what employees they want to do. A group of employees will have a better grasp on the office culture than one party planner or even a leader.”
“Christmas might be at the end of December, but Hanukkah starts on December 12," she noted. Asking around ensures that everyone is included.
And if you normally hand out "Christmas bonuses," consider rebranding them as "end-of-year bonuses." Or, (if you know your staff relies on the extra cash to get through the holiday season) bump it up a few weeks and make it a Thanksgiving bonus that shows your gratitude for employees.
Start some traditions
Want to get even more creative and inclusive? Abrahams suggests companies start their own holiday traditions. “Traditions often start on their own, if you let them," she said. "If employees enjoy an activity, they'll want to do it again year after year."
For example, last year at CultureIQ, a team leader made cocktails. "This was such a hit that there have been multiple requests for him to make them again this year. Part of the joy came from the delicious cocktails of course, but most came from the fact that a VP in our organization was taking drink orders on demand. This was a manifestation of the humility and equality throughout the organization," Abrahams said.
Sumayyah Emeh-Edu, a diversity & inclusion strategist at Techtonica, suggests that employers find out what's important to employees when starting this type of effort. And be very careful about optics; allow people from different communities to decide the most respectful way to do this.
Growing up Muslim in a predominantly Christian environment, Emeh-Edu believes that employers don't have to give up holidays that represent the mainstream of culture in your work environment, "it’s about creating belonging for those who are from a different group all year long."
"It’s not about stopping mainstream Christian holiday celebrations, as that is the majority. It’s about creating multiple touch points through the year that make everyone feel as though their religion, culture and traditions also matter,” Emeh-Edu said.
Try to hear everyone’s voice but if you can’t reach a consensus, make it about the celebration, rather than a holiday. For some companies, that may mean planning parties for the lag time between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Shifting the focus from a specific date on the calendar over to employees may make sense. After all, isn't that what you're celebrating anyway?