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Successfully Navigating The Festive Season In A Multicultural Workforce

December 02, 2020 | Insights

The holidays are just around the corner. With them comes festive cheer and a chance to stop and appreciate professional achievements. However, with them also comes questions and concerns from employers with a multicultural workforce.

‘Is it ok for us to celebrate Christmas?’ ‘How can we ensure we don’t upset or offend anyone?’ and ‘How can we be inclusive to all staff?’

While these concerns are common and sometimes contentious, they can be overcome. Celebrating is usually fine, but it’s important to make it accessible. Approaching celebrations in a slightly different way means everyone can have a very, merry time.

Let staff lead the way

Assemble a group of employees to form a committee and create a calendar of holidays and culturally significant events celebrated throughout the year. To promote further inclusivity, other staff could contribute to this via an anonymous survey or add to it directly onto the intranet.

For example, in December alone there are a number of cultural celebrations, including Pancha Ganapati (Hindu), Kwanzaa (African-Americans), Hanukkah (Jewish) and Bodhi Day (Buddhist). 

Celebrations throughout the rest of the year include Ramadan (Muslim), Rosh Hasanah (Jewish) and Chinese New Year.

Traditional foods, customs and ideas about ways to recognise and celebrate these individual cultural events can be discussed. Consider posting relevant cultural holiday details and greetings on the intranet and profile a staff member who’s keen to share stories of their cultural celebrations. 

With regards to Christmas specifically, the team can brainstorm ways to celebrate in an inclusive way, ensuring nothing is deemed upsetting or exclusive. 

Be mindful of...

Decorations –

When it comes to decorating shared spaces in the office, be mindful of anything that’s religious. For example, snowflakes, snowmen and garlands are a yes. A manger with Mary and Joseph is probably a no.

Depending on company policy, you might instead allow people to put a small religious decoration on their own desk or personal space.

Food –

If a festive lunch is being served, take into account the different dietary preferences of everyone. Offer vegetarian food, halal and kosher options where appropriate, and have non-alcoholic drinks as an alternative to alcohol.

Venues –

If celebrations are taking place at a venue, make sure it’s somewhere that’s not going to make some people feel uncomfortable or, worse still, excluded. For example, a pub may not be suitable for people who don’t drink. 

Secret Santa –

Buying an anonymous gift whereby the recipient is unknown can be tricky. What may seem inoffensive to some, could be to someone else. Therefore, it’s a good idea to set out some buying guidelines for those taking part.

Alternatively, everyone could contribute a toy to charity. Everyone gets to experience the gift of giving, but without the stress. 

Timing –

Rather than organising a party around Christmas, consider moving celebrations back to the end of the year, or even to January. This way, the focus of the celebrations can be on the achievements of the year or goals moving forward. 

Encourage participation

Encourage all staff to join in the festivities by sending the details of any planned celebrations through on email or posting in shared spaces such as kitchens or break rooms. Discuss in meetings and include in any newsletters.

Organise activities that help everyone feel part of the fun. For example, rather than an organised lunch, organise a potluck lunch where staff bring in a dish that reflects their culture or background. Food brings people together and trying a new dish is a great conversation starter.

Send the right message

If you’re sending personal holiday messages to staff, it can be a nice touch to send them a message in their native language. Use a translator service to get it right. Not only is this a great gesture of inclusivity, but it’s also a good way to ensure that your appreciation is understood.

Post celebration feedback

A good way to ensure that employees feel heard and included is to ask them to provide feedback after the event. Question what they liked, didn’t like and what suggestions they have for improving things next time. 

Feedback provides a good opportunity to learn from any mistakes or change things moving forward to be more inclusive. 

When it comes to building a strong and inclusive workforce, navigating the holiday season is well worthwhile. Setting a precedent gives employees the confidence that inclusion is a priority. Subsequently, they’re more likely to be open in discussing any issues and be keen to partake in events all year round.

Author - Frontline Human Resources


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