The December Dilemma: practicing inclusion during the winter holidays. The top religious accommodation companies have made in the past 12 months? Considering different religious beliefs of employees when planning holiday-related events, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) “Religion and Corporate Culture Accommodating Religious Diversity Survey.”
Taking differing beliefs into account is never more necessary than in December. “For our many colleagues who celebrate Christmas, December is a time filled with happy reminders as well as the usual daily pressures. But for those who don’t celebrate, that same drumbeat of Christmas images and messages can be uncomfortable, both in and out of the office,” says Joyce Dubensky, executive vice president of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.
The ramifications are not insignificant, Dubensky admonishes, “Tensions emerge, morale falls, and productivity often suffers. For employers, the December Dilemma is real and addressing it proactively can yield significant bottom-line results.”
December Do’s and Don’ts
According to the Tanenbaum Center, there are concrete steps you can take to reduce holiday tensions. Here are Dubensky’s do’s and don’ts for this sensitive time of year:
- Learn about the different holidays that fall in December and understand their unique practices and significance. Be sensitive, as well, to those who don’t celebrate any of the winter holidays — like Jehovah’s Witnesses and some atheists and agnostics.
- Think of everyone when planning holiday parties and snacks, and be mindful of religiously significant dietary restrictions. Don’t know what dietary needs there are? Ask: Your colleagues are the best source of information about their own needs.
- Know your organization’s policies on acceptable decorations. If you don’t have a policy, set one.
- Seek the input of a religiously diverse group of employees to plan any holiday celebrations.
- Consider establishing new traditions in your company by tapping into the creativity of your colleagues and students to come up with inclusive practices.
- Assume that everyone does — or should — share the joy of the Christmas season. While some non-Christians are perfectly comfortable with Christmas greetings and decorations, many more feel ignored and excluded.
- Ignore the calendar. Many different holidays can fall in December, and some of these shift dates from year to year. Keep the calendar front and center when scheduling meetings or holiday gatherings.
- Invite “Secret” or “Dirty” Santa to your office. There are more inclusive ways to incorporate holiday giving into the workplace; try a grab bag, or organize a food drive or charity project outside the office.
And don’t get too caught up in political correctness: It is possible to go too far, Dubensky says.
“The holidays can be a double-edged sword,” she says. “Although we certainly want to encourage more inclusive policies and practices, these can be experienced as anti-Christmas judgments, such as when Wal-Mart was challenged for instructing its staff to say ‘happy holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas.’ This underscores the need to make sure that employees understand the business needs driving the decisions. It’s not about belittling anyone’s holidays, it’s about creating the most effective workplace possible — and that requires inclusion.”