Honoring Diversity during the Holidays

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It’s important to realize that not all your workers have common beliefs regarding what holidays they observe. Some employees may not celebrate the traditional holidays that are on your company’s calendar.

While it’s not practical to create individual holiday schedules for each employee, it is important to accommodate and accept differing beliefs. Employees may ask for certain non-traditional days off, and those requests may create staffing issues, or overtime expense.

Employees may also decline participation in activities which are inconsistent with their beliefs.

Integrating alternative celebrations into your workplace events is a good way to recognize different preferences while preserving traditional observances.

It is also important for you to give employees with other heritages the opportunity to learn about your culture and understand the reasons behind the observances, without imposing those beliefs on them. Individuals may resist participation simply because they are unfamiliar with a holiday and its origins.

Here are some holidays that American workers, whether native to this country or from another culture may observe.

  • Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, is a winter celebration that people of the Jewish faith are called to observe.
  • Hannukah, or the Feast of Dedication, is another that employees who practice the Jewish faith may celebrate.


  • Kwanzaa is a celebration that many African Americans observe from December 26 to January 1 to celebrate their heritage.


  • Bodhi Day is a celebration that people of the Buddhist faith celebrate on December 8.


  • Yule is a festival that employees of German heritage may celebrate.


  • Diwali is a Hindu holiday for which the observation dates fluctuate between October and November.


  • The Chinese New Year occurs in late January and is often observed by American employees of Chinese heritage.


This is just a sampling of the beliefs and practices that employees may follow. Don’t assume that employees of certain ethnicities will automatically observe holidays or events that originate in their native culture. It’s important to remember that people are individuals and may readily adapt to your company’s holiday traditions.


So, how do you know the holiday observance preferences of your staff?

There are several ways to collect this information. Simply asking employees may put them on the spot, so an anonymous survey be a better option. But, like so many other aspects of workplace collaboration, it’s important to communicate with employees, let them know they’re valued, that their voices are heard. If you listen, you’ll learn about their preferences and concerns, including those associated with holiday celebrations.

Being fair with accommodations is imperative. It may happen that employee requests exceed the number who can be released on a given day. When the needs of the operation demand that one or more of those employees must work, neutral tie breakers such as seniority can help avoid perception of preference.


Finally, training employees about the importance of accepting various religious beliefs, (or absence thereof) is vital to avoid misconceptions, discrimination, and harassment concerning coworkers’ beliefs.


Remember, these inclusive practices will apply to all aspects of the workplace cultures, not just holiday celebrations. Treating employees fairly is a bottom-line issue, one which will favorably reflect on your company’s financial success.

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