November 21, 2023

Many businesses prepare to celebrate and spread cheer among their teams with the holiday season approaching. But before you plan to celebrate holidays at work with an Easter egg hunt or Christmas party, take a beat to consider your workforce!

Yes, holiday festivities can bring joy. However, these celebrations should be inclusive, respect the diversity of your team, and embrace everyone’s unique backgrounds and beliefs. 

So, how can you do that? Read on for our eight steps for practicing sensitivity and inclusivity when celebrating holidays in the workplace!

1. Create an Inclusive Environment

As you prepare your business for the holidays, start by acknowledging that not everyone celebrates the same holidays or in the same way. Embrace diversity by highlighting various cultural celebrations and encouraging employees to share their traditions. In other words, show employees that it’s not just ok, but welcome for them to practice their beliefs and be themselves!

By showing employees that you value their opinions, experiences, cultures, and beliefs, you’ll also create a positive workplace culture focused on mental health, support, and inclusion. This is all essential to building a safe space!

2. Survey Your Employees

Collect feedback from your staff before and after celebrating holidays at work! One way to do this is to ask each employee their preferences during new hire onboarding. While you can’t make this survey required, you can gather more data to continue improving holiday festivities at the office and ensure you are as sensitive as possible. 

You can also send annual surveys throughout the year to learn more about your team members and how to respect their needs and preferences. Consider including questions like:

  • What holidays would you like to see celebrated at work?
  • Which cultural celebrations do you honor?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share about the holidays?

Giving employees an avenue for open communication demonstrates an effort to understand their perspectives and improve future events.

3. Provide Flexible Work Schedules

Keep in mind that some employees might celebrate holidays your company doesn’t observe while not celebrating the more traditional holidays like Easter. One of the most straightforward solutions to accommodate diverse holiday schedules is offering flexible work schedules, which you can achieve with unlimited paid time off (PTO) or floating holidays. This allows employees to observe their cultural festivities when and how they like, without stress.

4. Practice Mindful Event Planning

As you plan office holiday parties or events, consider alternatives to mainstream holiday themes. This applies to the décor, food, greetings, and activities—how can you make them more inclusive? Consider: 

  • Using neutral decorations (a winter wonderland is always a nice culturally neutral theme!)
  • Incorporating diverse symbols from various cultures (use data from your survey!)
  • Create a menu that caters to different dietary needs and preferences
  • Encourage inclusive language in greetings and decorations (e.g., “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings”)
  • Eliminating alcohol from parties or gift exchanges to prevent people from feeling uncomfortable or excluded

Rather than hosting the standard Christmas party, consider an inclusive event like a New Year’s extravaganza. Or, hold quarterly potluck parties that honor holidays from the last three months. Invite team members to bring decorations or food from their religious, cultural, or family traditions. This is a powerful way for colleagues to strengthen their relationships and learn more about one another’s cultures and backgrounds!

5. Share an Inclusive Holiday Calendar

A shared holiday calendar is an easy tool you can implement to guide inclusive holiday event planning in the workplace. Feature global holidays like Diwali, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa and share it via Microsoft or Google (pssst…both platforms make it pretty easy, as they incorporate most holidays already!). Encourage employees to add holidays they celebrate, or check out an interfaith calendar for a comprehensive list you can add.

Your holiday calendar will enlighten team members, who will learn more about various holidays and cultures. They will also get to know their coworkers better and strengthen relationships!

6. Respect Boundaries & Preferences

Be mindful of employees who might refrain from certain holiday-related activities for personal reasons, such as religious beliefs or addiction recovery. Some may fast to observe certain holidays, meaning they probably won’t want to attend a party with lots of food. Others may choose not to participate in gift exchanges due to their beliefs or financial situation. And some people don’t celebrate birthdays for various personal, cultural, or faith-based reasons.

Respect your employees’ choices and avoid pressuring them to participate. Take it a step further by letting them know that holiday celebrations at work are optional, and they should not feel obligated to attend or fear judgment if they don’t. Doing so will create a warm, welcoming environment of belonging.

7. Support Mental Health & Emotional Well-being

Remember that the holiday season can also be challenging for individuals dealing with various personal circumstances, such as addiction recovery, coping with loss, struggling financially, or managing mental health issues. Create a supportive atmosphere by offering resources and initiatives aimed at promoting mental wellness, such as: 

  • Offering Confidential Support Services: Share confidential counseling services or support groups or refer employees to your employee assistance program (EAP). Stress the importance of seeking help and remind them that they are supported.
  • Providing Flexible Work Arrangements: As noted earlier, flexible PTO policies or arrangements such as remote work can help employees facing emotional or mental health challenges manage their workload more effectively. 
  • Encouraging Self-Care: Offer resources on stress management, mindfulness, and healthy coping strategies. Encourage employees to take breaks, practice relaxation techniques, or engage in activities that promote their well-being. You can bring in professionals to host wellness activities or provide these as unique employee perks!
  • Fostering a Supportive Community: Remind team members to check on each other, show kindness, and support colleagues struggling during the holidays.
  • Using Sensitive Communication: When you send holiday event invitations and announcements, consider those who might find particular gatherings challenging. As noted above, offer alternative ways for individuals to participate or opt out without feeling isolated or pressured.

8. Hold Ongoing Educational Initiatives

Hosting educational sessions or workshops on cultural awareness and sensitivity should be part of your overall diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy. Some of these topics should focus on holidays, promoting understanding and appreciation for diverse traditions within the workplace. 

A few ways you can do this include:

  • Inviting regular guest speakers to conduct trainings and discussions on various DEI topics
  • Fostering a safe space where team members are comfortable having challenging conversations and learning from one another
  • Participating in external activities and events, such as local Pride events or a cultural food festival—attending these together will only enhance camaraderie!

When you focus on DEI year-round, implementing inclusive holiday celebrations at work will come more naturally.

Balancing Festivities with Sensitivity

Celebrating holidays in the workplace fosters unity, respect, and inclusivity. By embracing diversity and being mindful of everyone’s preferences and beliefs, you create a welcoming and supportive environment where every team member feels valued and included. 

Are you seeking ways to build a more inclusive workplace and celebrate the holidays with respect for all your employees? Reach out to BlueLion today at 603-818-4131 or to learn how we can help!

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.