Christmas is an inclusive time. We welcome friends and relatives and want to include everyone in our celebrations. But Christmas means different things to different people. We all go a bit mad at Christmas, I think – in a positive way. We spend far too much money – and worry about the consequences in the New Year. Many eat and drink far too much and often regret it. But there is always January to start that weight-loss plan, or to go without alcohol.
Of course, for Christians, it is a time of great celebration and the Christmas religious services are special. They are also amongst the best-attended during the year. There are beautiful carols and hymns and Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
But what about all those who don’t want to – or are unable to – celebrate Christmas with everyone else? How can employers ensure that they are treated fairly and feel included at this time of year?
Some things which make an inclusive Christmas at work
As employers, we need to be aware of some of the areas which might cause arguments at work. Alternatively, some of our staff may be unhappy about Christmas celebrations in the office and would prefer a different approach. Some may be unable, physically or mentally, to enjoy the celebrations.
There is no need to be a kill-joy. Christmas is a wonderful time when most of us feel generous towards others. It would be a shame to bring in rules and regulations which change that feeling. I am certainly not advising you to stop people from celebrating. But it never hurts to consider how everyone is affected.
In some workplaces, Christmas is a time when people use up annual holiday. Some businesses shut down over the Christmas period. Other companies find that Christmas is the busiest time of their year and they cannot allow people to take time off, other than the bare minimum.
But there are some things to consider – some people may want to have additional time off at Christmas to attend events at their children’s schools, or to take part in religious activities. Whilst some others may want to save their holiday. Some want to use it at a different time of year. They may want to have time off at a different season for other religious observance, not Christian festivals. Or they may prefer to work when everyone else is off and it is quiet on the roads or in the workplace. With a bit of planning, it should be possible to accommodate all of these needs.
Jingle all the way
Even if you have a general rule not to have music in the workplace, Christmas is a time when people ask for an exception. Many of us like to listen to Christmas music while we work. But others are very sick of the same music which is played in shops and everywhere else at this time. Some may prefer carols and religious music. Many might prefer no music at all. Some may find it more difficult to hear and communicate with others if there is music. To be inclusive at Christmas, we need to try and accommodate all these needs.
Of course, it is impossible to please everyone. So you may need to allow music between certain times only. Or allow people to use their own headphones and devices so that they can listen but don’t disturb others. Or you may have an agreement that there should be music all the time, or no music at all.
They come from the East, bearing gifts
Christmas is a time of giving. We like to give gifts and cards to each other and this happens at work as well as in our private lives. Some people give a card to all their colleagues, some don’t give anything. Alternatively, some like to give to a charity instead of giving cards. Additionally, many workplaces organise a “secret Santa” pool where a gift is bought anonymously for a name pulled from a hat.
All of these things are fun and an employer who did not allow such things would be open to criticism from the workforce. But not everyone wants to take part in this giving. Some may have a religious objection. Some may not have the money to join in. Others may just find it pointless. It is important that nobody is forced into taking part.
zxAnd you definitely need to ensure that people are not criticised or made to feel uncomfortable if they choose not to participate. We can be very cruel to each other, especially where people may have different cultures or traditions from our own. As the boss, your job is to ensure that people can enjoy the festivities, but are not excluded because they choose not to do so.
Eat, drink and be merry
There are other potentially difficult areas to get right for an inclusive Christmas. Food and drink can cause all kinds of problems. It is natural and fun to bring in some extra chocolate or mince pies or biscuits at this time of year. Many places also have Christmas parties, either within the workplace or externally. This is also likely to mean alcohol flows and far too much rich food. Of course, it is all part of the fun and should not need to be restricted.
But you need to think about those who do not wish to be involved. It is fine if someone prefers to stay away from a party. Or if someone declines food or drink. And it might be a good idea to make sure everyone knows that it is acceptable for someone not to be involved. It is about personal choice.
What can I do to ensure everyone is included?
Anyone who regularly reads JMA HR articles will already know that my first advice is to consult, consult, and then consult again.
If you want your employees to feel included, then you need to find out how they feel about your planned festivities. Maybe their choice is not to be included, and that, of course, is a personal decision. It may be that the best way to include everyone is to allow them the freedom to exclude themselves.
Another major issue can be colleague pressure. When we are having a great time, we want everyone around us to have a great time too. But sometimes it is hard to understand that other people may not enjoy our way of celebrating. Your communications with employees must emphasise that it is not acceptable for people to feel forced into joining in. Nor is it acceptable for people to be criticised or ignored because they choose a different way.
Lonely This Christmas
While I was researching this article, I came across an old news item from The Guardian newspaper. This looked at how non-Christians celebrate Christmas. Although this piece was written a few years ago, I imagine that nothing much has changed.
The overwhelming message from this article was positive. Everyone thinks of Christmas as a time to spend with family and friends. I think that chimes very well with the Christian message of this time of year.
But it did occur to me that not everyone has family or friends. Or people may not have family near enough to spend time with them at Christmas. I think there is one thing which every employer can do to ensure an inclusive Christmas for their workforce. We need to know and understand our employees. We need to open work to them, if that is their refuge at this time of year. Or at least let them know the alternatives.
Many charities are glad of help at this time of year. Or churches and other religious organisations open their doors to provide food and company for the lonely. Some restaurants and cafes open to provide coffee, warmth and companionship to homeless (or lonely) people. Find out what is going on in your location, so you can advise your employees. Encourage those on their own to volunteer their services. They can then choose not to spend Christmas on their own. That would be the very best inclusive Christmas gift an employer can give.