Best practices for observing holidays and special celebrations in the workplace

As the holiday season approaches, many managers and business owners are tasked with managing company and client deadlines while balancing the out-of-office and holiday schedule requests from employees. Holidays, observances, and celebrations are unique to each person, but a good manager knows that it is essential to acknowledge holidays company-wide in an effort to create spaces where people feel validated, welcomed, encouraged, and affirmed.

Here we’re sharing a few best practices for observing holidays and special celebrations in the workplace.

Diversify Your Methods of Celebrating

Some celebrations intend to lift spirits and bring joy, but some can create inequity. Not all holidays are religious, traditionally celebrated as ‘happy,’ or officially recognized by governments, organizations, and workplaces. These events are often considered “non-dominant” as they are less likely to be recognized in media and organizations. In North America, Christmas is a dominant holiday; it is promoted and often socialized as universal. Yet, some do not celebrate Christmas or experience this holiday as a joyous time of year, which can be lonely, isolating, and othering. Expanding our celebrations and acknowledgments to these holidays can be validating and welcoming.

For example, some people may choose to commemorate days that signify mourning and loss. Consider word choice and intention when acknowledging these types of observances. It is also critical to recognize the importance of Juneteenth, which celebrates the emancipation of slavery in the United States. Many Caribbean countries celebrate similar holidays, such as Emancipation Day.

Expand your knowledge.

There are many ways to introduce holidays and create celebrations that don’t pressure people to celebrate in ways that contradict their personal beliefs and customs. Instead of assuming which holidays are most celebrated in your workplace, seek the information through conversations and employee surveys. Learn what is important to your team, allocate time and resources to expand your knowledge, and implement these practices.

When presented with new information, please share it with others in a respectful manner. Being surrounded by colleagues and leaders who assume positivity and consider dominant holidays, observances, and celebrations the ‘norm’ can be lonely for many.

Here are some ways to be more intentional about inclusion when acknowledging these non-dominant experiences:

  • Validate Non-Dominant Experiences: Acknowledge that non-dominant experiences exist and validate them in communications to your team, clients, partners, and social audiences.
  • Provide some context surrounding holidays: Reach out to employees privately and ask if they would like to share how they observe holidays and celebrations. You can also try and make it a collaborative effort to learn and educate; don’t leave the responsibility only to those participating.
  • Create awareness of other religions: Start with an interfaith calendar and let everyone in the organization know which holidays your employees will be observing; you don’t need to specify who.

Determine which holidays the company will celebrate.

Make it clear to your employees that “celebrating” means that your organization will celebrate these holidays as a group, whether through a party, corporate event, a day off, or gift-giving. Your organization can:

  • Create one or multiple multi-faith holiday parties throughout the year, OR;
  • Celebrate company-specific holidays, like when the company was founded or the first sale date, instead of centering your party around certain holidays. This can give team members time to bond and celebrate their excellent work.

Note that being inclusive throughout the year doesn’t mean your organization has to throw parties during every single holiday. You can acknowledge holidays in more minor ways to show employees you care about what’s happening in their lives.

Make considerations and concessions.

Ensure plenty of non-alcoholic options and vegan, vegetarian, halal, and kosher food options are available. Also, account for different comfort levels during parties. For example, some people do not consume alcohol and may not want to be present where alcohol is being served. Think of pregnant employees, employees of various faiths, and those managing addiction or recovery — these people might appreciate an alcohol-free portion of the event.

Everything changes — from technologies and innovations to social norms, cultures, and languages — so it would be wise to update your policies surrounding annual holidays, observances, and celebrations to continue building community, comradeship, happiness, and connection between you and your employees.