How to celebrate the holiday season in a diverse workplace

How to celebrate the holiday season in a diverse workplace

The holiday season is a time for togetherness and family. The question many workplaces face, as they diversify, is which holidays do you celebrate? All of them? None of them? Here’s how to celebrate the holidays in a way everybody at the office will enjoy.

  1. Do the research on various holiday traditions

    Your coworkers are probably used to people not knowing their holidays or worse, having the completely wrong idea about how they celebrate. Fortunately, research into different traditions has never been easier, so take a little time on Google and Wikipedia to become a bit more familiar. A good place to start is the Wikipedia entry on the winter solstice, which notes common celebrations around this point in the calendar.

    From there, look for information about how the holiday is observed, any dietary restrictions, and anything you can find that will help you get a handle on it. You don’t have to know the holiday backwards and forwards; your team is unlikely to expect you to be as familiar as somebody who grew up with these observances. But a good basic grounding to carry on a polite conversation will go a long way.

  2. Ask your team how they want to celebrate the holiday season

    Including your team should start with the planning process. Sit down with team members who you want to ensure you include, preferably informally and face-to-face, and ask them what they most want when celebrating the holidays at the office. This often depends on the person; some may jump at the chance, while others may not particularly be interested. What’s important here is that they know they have a space to be heard. Most of us want to know that somebody cares about our feelings, and giving room for those feelings is often a big part of the process.

  3. Avoid specific holiday or religious symbols

    We’ve all seen the dreaded holiday jumble: a menorah next to a Santa with a few other symbols. It’s a mess, and all it really does is combine a lot of wonderful celebrations into a big holiday-themed lump. Knowledge of different traditions varies widely from person to person, so one coworker might recognize it instantly, while another would be left confused. Traditions and symbols also can vary widely within groups, which can make context difficult to navigate in the workplace.

    Instead of using specific symbols, focus on symbols that communicate why we love the holidays: families and togetherness. A general winter motif, such as snowflakes, will also work. For specific symbols, encourage people to decorate their offices and cubes in a way they find festive.

  4. Educate about holiday traditions

    Part of workplace diversity is learning about each other, and the holidays offer a great opportunity to do that. While nobody should be put on the spot to represent their traditions, you should ask your coworkers if they’d like you to draft up an informational email or put up posters about the different traditions celebrated in your workplace, and give them the ability to comment and edit as needed. If your team wants to volunteer to explain, great, but they shouldn’t feel obligated.

  5. Focus on charity, not gifts

    One of the most common faux pas is a workplace gift exchange going wrong. A food gift doesn’t meet somebody’s religious dietary restrictions, or a symbol from one religion is given to a person who doesn’t celebrate that particular holiday. The best way around it? Give to charity instead. Try these alternatives:

    • Run a food drive for a local food pantry, or charge “admission” in non-perishable food items to workplace events during the holiday month.
    • Have each coworker choose a charity they support, and have a Secret Giving Santa where somebody donates in their name to the charity.
    • Run a clothing drive to keep families warm in the colder months.
    • Participate in a larger charity drive, like Toys For Tots.
  6. Plan ahead on holiday food

    Food is one of the most important ways we share our culture, and that can make the holiday meal something of a tricky balancing act, if you don’t know what people can and can’t eat. Fortunately, you’re probably already walking that particular tightrope with the diets of your coworkers that have nothing to do with religion: If you can coordinate a potluck where both paleo eaters and vegans can leave happy, this will be a piece of cake.

    • Leave out the liquor. Even before we get to any discussions of how different religions consider alcoholic beverages, liquor, beer and wine are probably just more trouble than they’re worth. Making your festivities alcohol-free will allow everyone to be more comfortable, and ensure nobody overindulges, at least until after work. If people raise the topic, ask somebody to coordinate an informal gathering later at an off-premises bar or restaurant.
    • As a guideline, ask people to keep meat and dairy separate for most dishes. Instead of meat lasagna, have people make a vegetable and cheese dish, for example.
    • When coordinating, aim for dishes that can be eaten by anybody. And if your coworkers have a particular holiday favorite, ask them if they’d like to bring it in.
    • As much as possible, keep dressings and sauces separate. Make sure there’s a variety of both for dishes, and for any dish you may be unfamiliar with, ask if there are any ingredients that might cause some trouble.
    • When picking a restaurant, run any options by coworkers with dietary restrictions, religious or not, and ask them if they can have anything on the menu.
  7. Invite families to holiday work events

    The holidays really are all about family, so consider coordinating events where people can bring their families. It encourages togetherness, helps your coworkers get to know one another, and underscores why we celebrate in the first place.

The holiday season can be stressful enough with gifts to buy and relatives to visit. With a little planning now, everybody can have a happy holidays at work.