Tis The Season For Inclusion

Article Contributed by Daryl Dixon from our Sibling Employers Association

It’s the time of year when holidays and traditions are observed and celebrated with family and friends, or solo. It’s also the time of year when organizations feel a bit of stress not knowing how to get through the holidays without offending anyone. Are season greetings such as “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” offensive? I hope to offer some thoughts on how your organization might navigate through the season with joy.

Since each person in your workplace will celebrate holidays differently, recognizing and supporting an inclusive environment shows your team cares about everyone! In other words, “holiday” is not synonymous with “Christmas.”

DEI during the holidays can be tricky. You don’t want to show favoritism toward particular groups, individuals, events, or personal values. Hence, the “holiday dilemma,” which is often used to describe the challenges HR leaders and managers face to acknowledge the numerous important events celebrated this time of year.

The holiday season, in and of itself, is already known to increase stress for employees. So, taking on the challenge to make this a joyful time for everyone, can compound the stress.

Here are four tips for making this a more inclusive holiday season:

Create space for people to be themselves
Teammates must feel safe to express themselves at work. Giving employees the freedom to show others what matters most to them, and having this gesture reciprocated, helps your team celebrate differences and embrace new traditions.

Start with this question: How would you rate your psychological safety at your workplace? Unfortunately, not all employees believe they can be their true selves at work or even speak up for their beliefs and opinions. A Gallup survey revealed only 3 out of 10 employees strongly agreed that their opinions count at work.

Identifying ways for each person to feel safe and accepted creates room for individuality. Are you giving team members opportunities to share their life experiences, culture, and religious traditions freely with their coworkers? Allow the time for peer education to better understand where each team member is coming from.

Find out which events and values matter to employees
One of the easiest and fastest ways to learn the scope of holiday celebrations for your team is by simply asking. Send out an inclusion and holiday diversity survey to capture further details, leaving room for comments at the end for anything you might have missed.

Keep in mind that not all employees will be celebrating religious holidays. According to Gallup, 21% of the U.S. population reports no religious identity or faith tradition, including atheists and agnostics. Avoid siloes when it comes to planning and hosting special celebrations during the holidays—go straight to the source and learn more about each team member.

Try to keep certain words, decorations, food and drink options, and other party details more inclusive when you are announcing or scheduling a group activity. This way no one feels pressure to do something uncomfortable or disregard their own set of values.

Create an inclusive holiday calendar to build awareness
Planning ahead and having a reference point for major holidays and festivities will guide your team throughout the year. Many organizations look to interfaith calendars for remembering important dates. Here are a few major holidays to keep in mind:

Common Celebrations Observed During the Holiday Season

  • December 16 to December 24, Las Posadas
  • December 18 to December 26, Hanukkah
  • December 21, Yule/Winter Solstice
  • December 25, Christmas
  • December 26, Kwanzaa

Often, companies will offer floating holiday options as well. This gives each employee the opportunity to celebrate a particularly special time at their discretion. Make sure that managers and coworkers are being respectful during these times and not disrupting the individual’s time away from work—no emails, Slack messages, or reminders while they’re out. Let everyone opt in or opt out.

Celebrating diversity and inclusion during the holidays requires a mindful and empathetic approach. Our own biases and beliefs can be hard to overlook during certain times of the year! Give everyone the ability to join in or opt out of particular company-wide events to be supportive of balanced work culture.

Employee gifts and exchanges are common during the holiday season. Respect each coworker by leaving these activities optional and providing consistent communication and expectations to the group.

In some cases, not everyone will be able to celebrate in person, and that’s okay! Remote celebration options are important for those who want to feel included. Keep social times voluntary and understand that remote workers may just need a break from their screens.

Learn how to keep improving
Your team is not going to succeed 100% of the time in keeping holidays in the workplace a perfect version of inclusivity and diversity. Learn from any mistakes and find ways to improve by receiving feedback from your team.

Whether you receive an outpouring of praise and encouragement or some constructive criticism, be sure to address it appropriately. Huddle with leadership on big issues or address specific situations with individuals directly. Once your coworkers feel heard, make a plan. Take what you’ve learned and apply it to your next holiday inclusivity and diversity planning session.