Cultural Sensitivity During the Holidays

Being sensitive to all of the diversity in your workplace, is something Human Resource Management needs to be mindful of every day, year round. The holidays really bring this issue to the forefront. From holiday parties with only Christmas traditions, to secret Santa gift exchanges, it’s easy for forget the many cultures and traditions. As an HR professional, it’s your job to make sure everyone’s religious preferences are respected and included. There are some simple and effective ways to do this. By putting in a small amount of effort to make everyone feel included, you’ll help your firm with liability, retention and over-all morale.

The easiest and most effective way to include employees from all religious backgrounds into your office’s workplace celebrations, is to research. As obvious as it sounds, if you know nothing about your co-worker’s traditions it’s nearly impossible to help them celebrate it. Make latkes for the holiday party, or even a kosher meat and cheese plate. Offering to visit a sick person, or help clothe someone less fortunate in honor of Ashura would be a nice gesture, while also honoring all religious and non-religious customs. No one can deny that a helping hand during the holiday season is a good thing. Do your own research, and base your inclusive traditions on your offices need.
Ask your co-workers who celebrate different holidays how and if they’d like their traditions included in some way. When planning the holiday party, make sure to ask your Muslim, Jewish, Atheist and other co-workers, which traditions, if any, they would like to see included. As with Christmas, every family celebrates differently and has their own traditions, maybe they’d like to include a special tradition to their family. If they’d like to lead the tradition at the party, even better. You can turn the holiday party into a culturally educational experience, where everyone can feel included. Better yet have a New Years party! Non-denominational, and great for boosting morale. There’s no need to not have a party, just think of different ways to celebrate.
For gift-giving, try to avoid things like “Secret Santa” which tend to be a Christmas based tradition. Instead opt for encouraging employees to bring small gifts with a reasonable price limit, for everyone in their department. This also avoids the inevitable, “What do I get for so-and-so?” problem that often arises when forced to buy gifts for total strangers. Everyone likes getting a present, no matter what their religious background, the less you make it about any specific holiday, and the more you make it about the spirit of giving, the better off your firm and all of your employees are.
When the majority of people in your workplace celebrate one holiday, it’s undeniably hard to make everyone feel like they are part of the celebrations. If you, as the HR professional, take the initiative, do the research, and keep the celebration inclusive, everyone can have a fun holiday season. While it may be too late to institute some of these changes for this seasons celebrations, it’s never too early to start planning for next year. Happy Holidays everyone, and have an excellent 2012!

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Aaron

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