72 HR MAGAZINE NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018
It’s the perennial “December
dilemma,” which occurs every
year between Thanksgiving
and New Year’s Day when
several religious and secular
holidays occur. Emotions can
be heightened, tensions can
rise and misunderstandings
can occur. Even those with the
best intentions make mistakes.
“It can be a bit of a dilemma
to make sure you are trying
to be inclusive of everyone
[while] also being mindful of
where you might not be—and
that is an ongoing journey,”
says Rev. Mark Fowler, deputy
chief executive officer of
the Tanenbaum Center for
in New York City.
While the U.S. workforce is growing increasingly diverse, Christians still make up about three-quarters of the country’s population. Yet if even
just a small number of employees feel excluded, it
can have a negative impact on an organization’s
engagement and productivity, experts say.
So, developing a greater awareness of which religious holidays are important to employees—and
how people prefer to celebrate (or not)—can have
signi;cant bene;ts for workers and employers alike,
The goal of most end-of-year celebrations is to show
appreciation for employees. Leaders who want to be
inclusive will focus on making workers feel that they
belong and that their presence is valued, says Eric
Peterson, a diversity and inclusion trainer in Silver
“One way to not be inclusive is to make somebody
feel invisible, to make them feel as though the organization just has no idea who they are, what is
pleasing to them and what is o;ensive,” says Peterson,
a senior consultant with Cook Ross Inc.
That might happen, for example, when what an
employer calls a “holiday party” is “really a Christmas party in disguise,” Fowler says. “There’s a big
tree with ornaments and gifts underneath,” which
for most people corresponds with Christmas.
That doesn’t mean you should shy away from ac-
knowledging Christmas. “Christians are part of the
workforce, too,” he says. “Make sure people under-
stand that it’s ;ne to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to those
who celebrate that tradition, but that not everyone
However, the signi;cant attention and buildup to
Christmas can overshadow non-Christian holidays.
“There are holidays and celebrations that happen
throughout the year,” Fowler says, “and yet they don’t
seem to get the same kind of attention that holidays
at the end of the year do.”
A more inclusive approach is to recognize that
employees come from a variety of faiths and tradi-
tions that mark special days at many di;erent times,
For many employees, their religion helps de;ne them
“It informs them about what sort of people they
ought to be” at work and at home, says Kent Johnson,
a religious diversity trainer in Houston.
Religious holidays can be reminders or expressions
of those values, he says.
“When a culture ignores that facet of their em-