Do We Need to Take Down the Tree? Holiday Ideas for the Inclusive Workplace

As the holiday season approaches, we are all looking at how to celebrate and create inclusiveness in our workplaces, especially in work environments with diverse staff.

Since celebrating together is a hallmark of an inclusive workplace, we want to be certain that everyone feels included in the festivities. But does this mean we should eliminate, for example, certain festive aspects of the Christmas holidays? Does inclusion mean that organizations should take down the tree? Certainly, eliminating such things as Christmas trees does not encourage inclusiveness, in fact it is a deterrent for those workplaces where the tree is a cherished tradition.

Actually, the concept of inclusion is fundamental to celebrating the holidays.

Blowing up balloons

As a cross-cultural trainer, I cannot think of any New Canadians that object to traditional decorations, traditions and festive events if, and this is the important part, their own holidays are acknowledged in some way as they occur throughout the year. This can present a delightful challenge for workplaces and is an important way to ensure that those entering our culture are acknowledged.

Christmastree Creating the inclusive workplace during holidays and at all times is a matter of addition, not subtraction.

Celebrating different cultural festivities doesn’t have to be particularly large affairs. But acknowledging them in some way – and authentically- goes a long way to creating inclusiveness. When I feel included, I am happier to participate in events which are new or foreign to me.

We have at this writing just celebrated several Islamic and Hindu festivities. A discussion with your staff can help you learn and come to appreciate the significance of these occasions.

Not sure how to begin the ‘adding on’ process of acknowledging global holidays and festive events?

Try one of these ideas:

  • Hang a world map in your Main Office/Hallway and have each staff member pinpoint their place of birth (Canadian born staff who have traveled/lived abroad can also mark the spot)– During a holiday, a member of staff who observes this holiday can describe it in one page near the map, share a food that marks the occasion or a photo of that event.
  • Create a Learn at Lunch Day where those who wish can share an aspect of their culture not usually known…this includes Canadian-born staff as well!
  • Honour cultural celebration differences of your diverse staff. Acknowledge major religious holidays/ celebrations…perhaps combining with learn at lunch. Workplaces that know a bit about the cultural practices of one another are more likely to accommodate differences.
  • A formal or informal focus group with your immigrant staff can explore ways to celebrate throughout the year using 2015 as a pilot year. Assess early in 2016 how we did in acknowledging the celebrations or traditions of others.

As holiday time approaches, remember that New Canadians who have not celebrated holidays in Canada are not always sure how to participate. I am frequently asked by internationally educated professionals what one does and says at the holiday party. Just as we travel in other cultures and marvel or puzzle at the festive practices around the world, so do those joining us here. Mentors, buddies and colleagues can be of tremendous help in discussing holiday behaviours and practices as well as event expectations.

Nancy Mark
Nancy is the lead facilitator of Hire Immigrants Ottawa’s cross-cultural competency training for employers.

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