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How to Make the Holidays More Inclusive for Your Employees

Published about 1 year ago • 5 min read

I think we’re all used to seeing a greater focus on Christmas (versus other holidays) this time of the year, and in some ways this makes sense. After all, the weeks leading up to Christmas are the most important time of the year for U.S. retailers, and 93% of Americans celebrate Christmas, including people who aren’t religious.

In the workplace, however, I think there’s a real need for companies to be more inclusive in their holiday celebrations and policies. And this inclusivity should extend beyond just the religious aspect of the season, although that’s certainly a key consideration. In fact, your team members could be feeling left out during this time of the year for a number of reasons. Here are a few questions to think about:

  • Does your company celebrate holidays beyond just Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa?
  • For holidays events, parties, and gift-giving, does your company respect people’s preferences around alcohol consumption and their dietary requirements?
  • Are your holiday events equally inclusive of in-office employees and remote team members?
  • Do you offer ways to celebrate for those who don’t wish to attend an office party?

I know this is a lot to consider, but remember, being inclusive isn’t just the right thing to do — there are real business benefits to making people feel that their preferences matter, and that their unique cultural backgrounds are welcomed and celebrated. For example, Gartner found that inclusive teams can improve team performance by up to 30% in high-diversity environments. An inclusive culture also helps to create an environment where employee engagement, collaboration, and innovation can thrive.

Perhaps most importantly, companies that prioritize inclusion are more likely to attract and retain high-quality employees. In fact, one of the top priorities that today’s workers look for in an employer is their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). And while there’s much more to DE&I than promoting an inclusive holiday season, paying attention to people’s needs during this time of the year can play a key role in shaping their overall experience at your organization.

With that in mind, it might make sense to step back and think about what your company could do differently this year, to turn the holiday season into a more inclusive and positive experience for all. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.

First things first — ask your employees what you could be doing better.

This goes without saying, but no one is better-equipped to tell you how you could improve the holiday experience than your own employees. You’ll want to ask your team members which holidays they observe (if any), what they’d appreciate receiving as a gift, and whether they’d be interested in attending a holiday party. It’s also a good idea to ask about people’s overall experience at your company during the holiday season. For example, do they feel that their preferences and traditions are equally celebrated and respected? Do they feel excluded in some way? The only way to know is to ask!

If you have a holiday party, plan it with everyone in mind.

There are many considerations when it comes to party planning for the holidays. First, it’s important to be thoughtful when scheduling your event. For example, you wouldn’t want to schedule it when some employees might be fasting for Ramadan. You’ll also want to be careful with the naming and theme of your event. Avoid referring to your celebration as a “Christmas Party,” and instead focus on a more general holiday, winter, or end-of-year theme.

It’s also wise to consider (or reconsider!) the location of your event, especially if many of your team members work from home. It may not be feasible for remote workers to attend a party in-person, in which case a virtual holiday gathering might make more sense. In fact, many of your team members might actually prefer something less formal and time-consuming — which brings me to my next piece of advice…

Consider alternatives to the holiday party.

With a recession on the horizon and many people feeling the effects of inflation on their wallets, it might make sense to ditch your usual office gathering and offer your workers a monetary gift instead. This could be a cost savings for your company as well — one survey found that 36% of companies are skipping or majorly downsizing holiday parties to save money, and 33% have never hosted in-person holiday parties to begin with. That means that just 31% are planning celebrations this year.

Moreover, numerous studies have found that employees aren’t as keen on holiday parties as you might think. For example, one survey found that 90% of workers would prefer a bonus or extra vacation time over a company soiree. But if you still feel like it’s important to bring your team members together, consider having them participate in a volunteer activity or a charitable event. They’ll get to spend time with each other doing something meaningful — and that’s a win-win for everyone.

Be mindful when it comes to food and beverages.

Whether it’s a holiday party or office potluck, it’s critical that you’re considerate of people’s dietary needs and preferences. This means ensuring that there are options for those who are vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free, as well as those who have food allergies or sensitivities. You’ll also want to avoid celebrations that are centered around alcohol, which could make some people uncomfortable and also increases the likelihood of unprofessional behavior.

This is something to think about for gift-giving as well. Food can make a great holiday gift, but I’ve heard too many stories about people whose preferences weren’t considered — from the non-drinker who was sent a bottle of wine, to the vegan who received a box of dairy-laden cookies. Sending a gift that someone can’t use is really no better than sending nothing at all, so either ask for your employees’ preferences in advance or offer different options for them to choose from.

Let your employees use floating holidays.

Instead of requiring everyone to take off on Christmas day, consider offering floating holidays that your employees can use as they wish. This is a simple way to make employees feel appreciated as individuals, rather than forcing people to take off for celebrations that simply aren’t meaningful to them.

Some companies have gone so far as to make all of their holidays floating, although typically employees must still use this time off for religious or cultural reasons. Others allow people to use floating holidays whenever they wish, more like an extension of their PTO. And a few companies have done away with holidays and PTO entirely, allowing workers to take off as much time as they need, when they need it.

Create opportunities for employees to share how they celebrate.

Although it’s probably a good idea to keep your company-wide holiday party more general, we also need to recognize that in inclusive workplaces, everyone’s unique background is celebrated and accepted. And I think there’s no better time than the holidays for your employees to learn more about each other, especially because there are so many different holidays observed around the world during the fall and winter months.

You could encourage employees to decorate their offices in keeping with the holidays they celebrate, or you could plan events where people can share their traditions through food, pictures, or storytelling. This is such a great time of year to help people connect with each other and feel seen as individuals — and at the end of the day, that’s really what this season is all about!

Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know how you’re creating a more inclusive holiday season for your staff!

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