Today's politically correct climate has caused communities, schools, and businesses to question their holiday traditions. School choirs can no longer sing ''Silent Night'' without the threat of lawsuits. Community menorahs are snuffed, and mangers are vandalized. What should society do? Ban anything remotely religious? How does a business host a holiday party without risking discontent?
By recognizing and appreciating diverse traditions, a business culture can thrive. What’s more, an inclusive approach to the holidays sets an example of respect, tolerance, and positive communication. These attitudes and values transfer into the business realm and increase productivity. So, instead of sticking to a secular route, embrace the holidays and the multitude of traditions that reflect your employees and society at large.
Follow the tips below to create an all-encompassing holiday tone:
- Invite individuals to present their values. This must be done in a positive, tolerant environment, but it will allow people to feel as if they matter. They do. Create a visual space or a board for people to post quotes that reflect their cultural backgrounds in a constructive way. Hanging an oversized calendar is a great idea to help employees to mark holidays and festivals. And if you have a web designer, add such a calendar to your website and circulate emails about cultural tolerance.
- Survey employees to discover their cultural heritages in a positive, informative manner. This is a terrific time of year to engage people in discussions about personal identity. Make doing so important. Let employees know that your business cares about their personal lives and does not want to offend or exclude anyone. Raising the issue of cultural and religious diversity will begin to eliminate fears and misconceptions. Talking about the issues and discovering specific traditions begins an initial step towards diversity education. If a business sets an accepting tone, employees will feel the freedom to express themselves. That said, you should allow people to opt out of personal revelation if it is uncomfortable or sensitive for them. Surveys can vary and be done either electronically, verbally, in written form, or in a group setting. Be careful not to single out people, and make sure everyone is included. Sample questions might include ''How do your and/or your family celebrate your heritage?'' and ''Would you be willing to share this information with others in the company so that everyone learn about new and different cultural traditions?''
- Decorate and design a party without offending anyone. Holiday parties can offer a festive flair without offense. Almost all cultures cherish and celebrate light during the dark winter months. String white lights throughout the office and light candles during formal parties. Bring nature inside by using pinecones, frosty firs, and blue ice to celebrate the winter months. Ice sculptures can offer a unique centerpiece and spark conversation. Include employees in the design by asking what they would like to see at an office party.
- Tolerate no insensitive jokes or offensive behaviors. Be clear that your company supports all differences and allows no dubious discussions or negative stereotypes. Offhanded comments can hurt people and create a breeding ground for prejudicial behaviors. Offer a training program or workshop to raise awareness and let employees know what the company expects and tolerates. Workshops can be specific to gender issues, race and ethnicity, religious tolerance, or culture in general. Bringing in an expert can set a serious tone while educating employees in a safe and respectful manner. If this is beyond your company’s budget, offering diversity resources on the Internet will help guide people to find answers and to understand each other.
About the Authorall traditions. Offer an environment for employees to share aspects of their cultures. Play ethnic music and offer a variety of foods at holiday gatherings. Through the survey, discover what foods are not tolerated by certain cultures represented and don’t offer them. Post holiday greetings in multiple languages. Don’t be afraid to wish someone a ''merry Christmas,'' but also offer a ''happy Hanukkah'' or ''happy New Year''. Try saying ''hello'' (''marhaba'') in Arabic for a change or ''peace be with you'' in Hindi (''namaste''). Be clear the intent is not to speak multiple languages, but rather to recognize and respect cultural heritages. Create a pluralistic environment to include and celebrate everyone.
A healthy business culture celebrates and recognizes all employees. A diverse environment produces better results and mirrors our multicultural society. Unity and respect underline successful goals. Accepting and learning about each others’ beliefs provides the freedom to celebrate fully. Celebrate unity!
About the Author
Carrie Brown-Wolf is a national speaker and the author of Soul Sunday: A Family’s Guide to Exploring Faith and Teaching Tolerance, winner of five national awards. After earning a master’s degree at Columbia University’s Teachers College, she launched a successful multicultural education company and consults with business and community organizations. Through her seminars, S2, Carrie teaches business leaders to understand cultural differences and to develop creative communication. For more information, visit www.carriebrownwolf.com or www.SoulSunday.org.