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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and The Holiday Season

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and The Holiday Season

When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, the day-to-day operations are on the forefront, but it’s easy to forget a sense of belonging that goes deeper.  Understanding people beyond the workplace and appreciating their differences can go a long way in creating a healthy workplace culture that promotes a sense of psychological safety and well-being. In any culture, holidays play a role in building community and honoring differences, but in many cases, holiday recognitions, celebrations and policies are not always built for a multi-cultural workforce.  So how can employers remedy this?

89% say a commitment to diversity and inclusions is important image

The Benefits of Inclusive Holiday Recognition

Inclusive holiday planning goes beyond switching the workplace Christmas party to the annual holiday party.  The focus should be all year long with a focus on diverse celebrations  and should also provide awareness and education to employees to better understand the significance behind each holiday.

Whether the holidays or celebrations you choose to recognize are cultural or religious, they each represent a valuable part of your employees’ identity, which in turn impacts their employee lifecycle experience.  In fact, 89% of job seekers and current employees say commitment to diversity and inclusion is important.  If employees feel a sense of inclusion and belonging, there is a higher likelihood of increased productivity, engagement, innovation and retention.

There are many US and global holidays and celebrations but it’s all about your unique workforce.  When recognizing diverse holidays in the workplace it gives everyone an opportunity to learn about different cultures and the significance and history behind each celebration.  In order for employees to consider themselves heard, celebrated and supported by leadership, organizations have a responsibility to create and promote opportunities for employees to speak up, which further enables DE&I.

Religion and the Holidays

Religious diversity in the workplace is a fact.  Although nearly two-thirds of Americans identify themselves as Christians, that number is down 12% over the last decade, according to Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life. Conversely, the number of people in America who identify as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or some other faith is increasing, as is the number of people who identify as having no religious affiliation.  For decades, many companies’ holiday calendars have been oriented around the major Christian holidays.  As people who practice other religions become a significant portion of the talent pool, these shifts require Human Resources, DE&I practitioners, and leaders to revisit the way they have traditionally handled policies and recognition for religious holidays.  Employees need to feel included with time off to celebrate religious holidays that are meaningful to them, their families, and their communities.

Welcoming employees’ religious diversity can also be a competitive advantage.  The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) points to studies that show when employees’ religious traditions are considered, levels of employee engagement and retention increase.

What can companies do to accommodate employees who need time off for religious observance?  By some estimates, in 2022 there are approximately 175 religious holidays recognized.  Closing the office for even a third of those holidays would not be attainable for most organizations.  Picking and choosing which holidays to observe can be complicated and exclusive of global diversity.

How to Practically Balance the Schedule in an Inclusive Environment

Instead of scheduling holidays around the religious calendar, consider offering your employees floating holidays to be used however the employee chooses to use them.  Companies can offer floating holidays alongside other paid time off. This strategy pairs well with a generous PTO benefit, especially because some religious traditions have more than five holidays.  For example, there are up to 13 Jewish holidays per year that could require missing work. When an “unlimited” or high day-number PTO schedule is offered, employees can plan their time off around what matters most, as opposed to a set schedule of days that may or may not be convenient for them to be away from the office.

Language matters, and that is why the term “floating holidays” lends itself to greater inclusion compared to “religious holidays.”  There may be employees that identify as non-religious and this policy would also allow them to take time off for any holiday or practice that is particularly meaningful to them, which may or may not be tied to religious observance.

Other Inclusive Holiday Policies

In addition to having time-off policies that support religious accommodation for holiday observance, it is also strategic to consider other flexible policies such as a flextime policy, so employees have the option to work a flexible schedule during special periods of religious observance.  For example, during Ramadan, a month where many Muslims fast during daylight hours, you may want to consider allowing these employees to start the workday early and then end early to adjust energy levels while fasting.

It is challenging to know everything about the many religious traditions and celebrations but having a baseline understanding of less observed and misunderstood traditions can go a long way towards a more inclusive workplace culture and being a more inclusive leader.  Go deeper as leaders by asking questions and investing in training resources that better prepare you to ask the right questions.  Don’t assume you know which holidays are associated with a particular religious population.  For example, many think of the holiday Diwali being celebrated by the Indian Hindu population, but many may not know that Jains and Sikhs also observe Diwali for different reasons.  According to Pew Research, 17% of Hindus say they participate in Christmas festivities.   Another example, in the Jewish tradition, Hanukkah is perhaps the most well-known holiday because of its proximity to Christmas, but it’s usually not as important as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot).  If you don’t know…ask.

Accommodating religious holidays is just one way to support your religiously diverse workforce.  Providing a workplace culture that respects each employee’s religious or non-religious traditions and observances is an important step towards inclusion and belonging.

Non-Religious Holidays and Celebrations

In most DE&I conversations, it is important to be inclusive when talking about and celebrating our many differences at work.  Monthly celebrations play a key role in ongoing awareness related to diverse cultures and customs.

Organizations might consider creating a company-wide global diversity calendar which outlines diverse holidays, recognitions and observances throughout the full calendar year.  Organizations that recognize and embrace cultural differences all year long are going deeper on identity.  By demonstrating this level of commitment, it promotes an inclusive workplace culture and not a check-the-box and “nice to have” recognition.

Tips for Inclusive Celebrations…All Year Long

  • DE&I cannot succeed without input from the entire team. So, when it comes to which holidays to recognize, an important starting point is asking what your employees value.  You can then incorporate employee feedback into your recruitment, hiring, and onboarding process, within cultural surveys and DE&I assessments, small group discussions, or by leveraging your Employee Resource Groups or Diversity Council.
  • Be intentional and considerate of all DE&I celebrations when scheduling company meetings or events (US and Global).
  • Make holiday celebrations optional and communicate to employees they are not obligated to participate in workplace celebrations or recognitions.
  • Educate employees on the importance of honoring and celebrating our differences.
  • Make holiday celebrations a group event or activity. Encourage employees to share their stories openly and authentically during multicultural events.
  • Floating holidays and flex time options may be a simple way to make employees feel understood, accepted and appreciated. The holiday season is a melting pot of various races, ethnicities, religions and cultures and it only makes sense to offer the flexibility to accommodate holidays as equitably as possible.

Leadership can’t assume anyone’s cultural or religious values – they must create platforms for all employees to speak up.  Leaders must then listen up, and actively facilitate meaningful workplace conversations around cultural recognitions.  It is equally important to communicate with employees in return, while championing the intent of honoring greater diversity in the workplace.

The 2022-2023 winter holiday season is upon us, and we wish you a joyful and peaceful season.  Learn more about how Syntrio can partner with you to implement your 2023-2024 yearlong and monthly diversity celebrations.  We welcome you to contact a member of our staff to learn more about our DE&I learning and engagement solutions.  We strive to make the Workplace a Better Place, One Organization, One Culture, One Person at a Time.

Tammy is a thought leader with a pioneering record of global workforce management experience. She has worked across diverse industries and specializes in developing large-scale human resources and diversity, equity, and inclusion program strategies while helping organizations create inclusive cultures that leverage all talent for a competitive advantage. Tammy has held very focused senior leadership roles while serving as a trusted advisor, coach, and facilitator.

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