In case you haven't wandered into a retail department store lately, it's already holiday shopping season, as we're now a mere three months away from Christmas. With the economy in a slump and the financial crisis threatening to make it tougher than ever to live on credit, retailers are understandably tense about the holidays. But what about your own employees? Do the holidays tend to send them into a deep funk, souring their moods while their productivity tanks?
According to consulting firm Novations Group, one out of every 10 employees feels excluded from the festivities during annual holiday celebrations in the workplace (this presumes, of course, that your workplace actually has holiday celebrations; many long ago stopped the practice, or diluted it to such a non-event that some employees weren't even aware that the free snowball cookies in the breakroom represented, in fact, their company's holiday celebration and bonus).
Twelve percent of men and 9% of women say they've felt left out or ignored at holiday time, the Novations survey says, but the findings showed no significant differences by age or race. Employees in metropolitan areas were twice as likely to feel excluded.
The survey reflects the growing diversity of the American workplace, says Dawn Frazier-Bohnert, senior VP of Novations. "Each year the holidays become a more complicated challenge for U.S. employers. Of course, all organizations want to be inclusive, but it appears that their efforts may fall short at holiday time. Once upon a time holiday diversity could be achieved by adding a Hanukkah Menorah to the holiday decorations. But today employers have to take into account an ever increasing variety of religious beliefs and practices among their employees."
Frazier-Bohnert advised employers to choose activities that will not make non-Christian employees uncomfortable:
● Seek participation from employees on holiday planning. Include as many groups as possible, or at least solicit their input.
● Allow employees to opt out of the company's holiday events without either penalty or negative connotation.
● Allow non-Christian employees to offer alternatives sanctioned but not mandated by the company.
● Be aware of the seasonal observances of all religions that may be represented in your workforce. Don't focus just on Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. (In some years there may be a conflict with Ramadan or Diwali.)
● Be conscious that alcohol at parties may make some non-Christians as well as Christians uncomfortable. And offer vegetarian alternatives.
"Management can't just delegate holiday planning to a single employee who may have been in charge for many years," Frazier-Bohnert says. "There has to be real outreach and involvement by top management. They've got to be sensitive to the religious beliefs of all employees and create more flexible celebrations so that no one will feel excluded."
And hopefully they won't just say to heck with it, and assign a single employee to buy a few boxes of cookies, and then call it a (holi)day.