Shopping malls are heaving. Residential streets are festooned with twinkling lights. And the sound of Status Quo fills the airwaves on repeat for another December. So ubiquitous are the constant reminders of Christmas (lest we forget!), that it can be easy to overlook the fact that it isn’t everyone’s bag.

Christmas starts earlier every year. No sooner are our flip-flops relegated to the depths of the wardrobe, than the Christmas TV ads start creeping onto our screens. For many, it’s the start of months of excitement, anticipation and preparation. But for literally millions of people living in the UK, December 25th is just another day like any other. Or, at least, it would be, but for the level of unparalleled hype with which it is associated.   One has to wonder how it feels, at this time of year, to be in the shoes of someone who does not celebrate Christmas; for example Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Jehovah’s Witnesses.   Because, behind all the commercial spin and secular traditions that have evolved around Christmas, it is, when all is said and done, a festival firmly rooted in the Christian faith.

From the company Christmas party and the office ‘secret Santa’, to department Christmas lunches and corporate ‘festive jumper’ days: Christmas has well and truly pervaded the office environment. And Christian or not, the general assumption is that everyone wants in. And those who don’t … well, ‘Bah, Humbug’ to them. Yet how fair is it that, just because these people form the minority, they should get labelled as party poopers simply for observing a different religious calendar. Let’s put the shoe on the other foot, and ask ourselves how we might feel if we were forced to use annual leave to mark a religious holiday we do not recognise (not all Christmas office closures are generously accompanied with supplementary leave allowance), spend the best part of two months building up to and celebrating a festival outside of our own belief or culture system, and, engage in the exchange of gifts and greetings cards at personal expense. (Either that, or risk being labelled the office Grinch). Then, to add insult to injury, imagine that when our turn for religious celebration on the calendar swings around, no-one so much as mentions it, there’s not even the slightest nod towards recognising our traditions, and it certainly doesn’t come hand in hand with office closure and guaranteed annual leave.

So what’s the solution? Should Christmas be banished from the workplace altogether (gasp!)? Should we immediately petition the government to make Bank Holidays out of all other significant religious festival days (tempting, but probably not good for GDP statistics)? Most definitely not, on both counts … but there are plenty of ways in which employers can ensure that there is an air of inclusivity injected into the season of festive cheer and goodwill. So, before you cart the office Christmas tree straight back out of the door, read on to find out our tips on managing diversity sensitively at this time of year.

Deck The Halls

As you were with the tree, then. By all means, mark the festive period with seasonal decorations in the office. But avoid taking too heavy a religious angle with your decorative theme, and stick instead to more secular seasonal trimmings.

Party On

There’s no reason to cancel the office party either. But you may want to think carefully about the arrangements. Is the purpose to celebrate Christmas, or to thank everyone for their hard work and contribution over the past year? Why not consider timing your main annual party event differently, so that there is no perceived religious anchor. Some companies choose to throw a summer party instead, or even use a party as a motivating way to kick off the New Year. There’s less pressure on everyone’s diaries, less competition for venues, and prices are likely to be more competitive (meaning your budget can stretch further). And consider the timing carefully; whilst Friday nights are popular with most, they will automatically exclude any Jewish employees, who would need to be home before sundown. Check the religious calendar for key dates, to avoid any awkward clashes. And finally, menus and drinks will also need careful consideration in order to cater for everyone’s needs; an alcohol fuelled bar crawl involving drinking games will hold little appeal for teetotallers.

Office Traditions

One of the nicest things about the festive season at work is the reminder that it doesn’t have to be work, work, work all the time. So, bring on the festive jumpers. You could even build diversity into your gift exchange traditions. After all, these are the little things that inject some fun and humour into the workplace. But make the effort to learn about and recognise other religious traditions throughout the year also. It’s a great opportunity to raise awareness within your workforce, and you can create some really fun parties and events, year round, by embracing the key festivals and dates celebrated by minority groups within your team.   The autumn and winter seasons alone mark numerous non-Christian, religious and secular festivals (Diwali, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving and Kwanzaa). Celebrate their significance, make the effort to give out holiday cards that are pertinent to the individual, and encourage the sharing of traditions. All of this will demonstrate your awareness that there is more to the winter season than the build up to Christmas.

Happy Holidays

Be flexible with the needs of different employees. For many people who don’t celebrate or recognise Christmas, the office shutdown period is still an enjoyable rest break, with almost guaranteed switch-off from work emails. But for others, it can be viewed as enforced holiday, which eats into valuable annual leave. If it is practical and economical for your business to remain open, you should consider offering more flexible working arrangements over Christmas so that those who prefer to take leave for religious purposes at other points in the calendar can bank the time if they choose to. And, in planning the business calendar, it is crucial to take note of all key religious and secular festival dates, and ensure that major events, such as company forums, away days and training sessions, do not clash.

One could draw a comparison with celebrating birthdays in the office. Even the most curmudgeonly amongst us will willingly donate to birthday collections, share in some cake, sign the office card and offer many happy returns on the day. But it’s easy to see why it would smart a bit if, after making a huge fuss of everyone else’s big day, one’s own birthday passed by unmentioned. We’d all do well to bear this analogy in mind in relation to celebrating the Christmas season and other religious festivals.


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