It’s rather ironic that, for a time of year that’s all about giving and being thoughtful to each other, there are so many people who feel excluded and isolated as a result of Christmas celebrations.
It’s a time that dominates the calendar from mid-November to the end of the year – not necessarily because it’s a religious festival. High streets, TV ads, offices and indeed clothes worn are all Christmas themed.
It’s the time of year when the majority of workers down tools and spend time with family and friends.
So, while we may not all celebrate the Christian festival at the heart of Christmas, it is an event that is very difficult to avoid and abstain from, even if one wanted to.
Creating an inclusive Christmas
As a leader it might seem that Christmas is an impossible minefield to navigate and get right when there are so many different needs being expressed. You might conclude it’s easier not to celebrate at all and that way no one can be offended or feel excluded. But there is a lot to be gained by getting this crucial time of year right. Investing time and energy in ensuring that everyone feels included – even if they are not participating in the festivities – can lead to enormous benefits in terms of employee engagement and wellbeing. As you start to plan this year’s office celebrations, you may want to consider the following:
Are you celebrating all the festivals and occasions that are important to your team members?
● Take some time to get to know and understand what is important to your individual colleagues and find out their preferred way of celebrating these occasions.
● Be curious in identifying appropriate ways that colleagues can join in if they so wish.
● Make sure these dates are in the company diary and that they are both marked as agreed and that colleagues are invited to join in if they wish to do so.
● Check an interfaith calendar so that scheduling mistakes can be avoided – Hanukkah and Bodhi Day very often fall around the same time as Christmas. You may choose to celebrate them all at the same time.
● Employ this approach consistently, including when it comes to Christmas.
Ask your team how they want to mark the occasion. Who wants to be involved? What level of celebration do people want to take place at work?
This conversation demands a very high level of emotional intelligence from those leading the thinking.
● Remember there are many reasons why people do not wish to celebrate this time of year and as colleagues we must be respectful and accepting if people do not want to get involved.
● Be mindful that those people who wish to abstain do not feel judged or made to feel uncomfortable for doing so.
● Consider your own response and those of others in fully accepting the needs and wishes of those who do not wish to participate in this particular festivity.
Are you adding undue financial stress at an expensive time of year?
Specifically at Christmas, more so than during other celebrations, there can be big demands and financial pressures to attend an evening office party, purchase an outfit for Christmas Jumper Day, or partake in giving Secret Santa gifts.
The commercialism of Christmas makes this time of year an incredibly difficult time financially for some and the expenses from work can add to already high levels of anxiety and stress.
● Acknowledge the additional costs to help improve the level that individuals feel included in celebrations.
● Recognise that it’s not just about the money. Some people are considerably time poor with looking after the needs of young children or caring responsibilities.
● Make it easier for those colleagues who wish to join in by running celebratory events during work hours – festivities can always extend into the evening for those who wish and are able to continue the party into the early hours.
Are you giving colleagues opportunities to celebrate that which matters most to them, or are you unconsciously forcing the majority belief on all?
● Consider the introduction of ‘floating holidays’, which are now being offered by forward-thinking companies like Microsoft and Salesforce.
● Allow employees to choose when to take holiday so they can celebrate those times that are most important to them. It makes great sense for business continuity and it means that individuals are not made to feel different for not participating specifically in Christmas.
● Recognise that some employees don’t have a religious identification and give them the right to celebrate events that are important to them instead, whether that’s human rights, International Kindness Day or something else.
By actively listening to the needs of all of your team, innovative leaders can successfully design celebrations that include all. With deep understanding, empathy and communication, the goal should be that everyone knows that they are always welcome to participate in any workplace celebration and are warmly invited to do so.
Colleagues also know that it is perfectly acceptable not to participate if people don’t want to, and these individuals feel understood and accepted for their needs and preferences without fear of persecution or ridicule. For those who wish to participate but have specific needs, thoughtful leadership will help them feel included as a result of creative compromise and changes to long-held ideas so that they can attend and take part without stress or anxiety.
As leaders we need to keep in mind the true spirit of Christmas. Step back and remember what it is that we teach our children – not to expect gifts, but to find joy in giving to others.
There are many opportunities for teams to volunteer at Christmas, which can create important inclusion and belonging opportunities for professionals. For example, as a team you could volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen, or take part in fun team challenges with a fundraising element for charity.
Perhaps the purpose of this festive season is to learn or hone important skills and traits, such as perspective, empathy and team working, rather than simply overindulging in the partying, presents and Christmas decorations.
After all, “It’s the most developmental, wonderful time of the year!” – as the song doesn’t quite go!
If you want to improve your inclusion policy next year, book a free introductory call to learn how, together, we can action your business goals. Booking a consultation today is the first step to honouring your new year’s resolutions.