We Wish You A Merry – And Inclusive – Christmas

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.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – contact us for a no-obligation chat.

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

How To Plan A Happy Workplace Christmas

Christmas should be a really happy time of year.  It is a holiday period and we all look forward to a break from work.

Or do we?

For some people, Christmas is a nightmare.  For others it can just be a time of chaos and confusion.  Some think it is no different than any other time of year.  Others wish it would all just be over quickly.  Some want it to be Christmas all the time.

Employers have an added dimension.  We need to try and keep productive, but allow our staff some leeway and time to enjoy themselves.  But what should we allow, or not allow?  What are the pitfalls that face us as Christmas approaches?  How can we make sure our business doesn’t suffer over the holiday period, but our employees have a great time?

How should employers start to plan for Christmas in the workplace?

There are so many things to think about which can make working at Christmas either great or horrible.  It can be your most successful time of year, or your slackest time.  Of course, you may not always be able to plan which of these is the case.

Do your employees want to be at work at Christmas?  Or not?  Do you have enough volunteers to cover peak times?  Or do you need to work out a rota?  Can you allow everyone to take time off or holiday over the period?  Maybe you need to stop all annual leave.  What about time off for religious festivals?  What about time off to support family activities (school carol concerts, nativity plays)?

Have you thought about cultural diversity?  Your staff may not all want to celebrate Christmas or to have time off.  It maybe the case that they prefer to keep their annual leave for other occasions, or to have time off for other religious or cultural activities.  Can you accommodate all of these wishes?

Time out at Christmas

One contentious issue is time off work.  Do you want to close the business down for a few days?  And can you afford to do so?  If so, does everyone who works there want to have time off forced on them, or would they rather work over the holiday period?  If you are shutting down, has everyone got to use up annual leave?  Have they got enough annual leave?  Will you give extra time off?

Will you let people leave early on Christmas Eve, or do you expect them to work the full day?  Is your business going to be shut on Christmas Day, or will you be open as usual.  If it is the latter, how will you organise who works on that day?

Celebrations

Things you need to consider under the heading of celebrations are many and varied.

Your employees may want to have an office party, or a meal out.  You need to consider whether this should be in their own time or whether you will give additional time off.  You might want to contribute to the cost.

What about music in the workplace?  Some people like to have Christmas music while they work.  Others hate it.  Some like the popular Christmas music which is played on the radio and in shops all through December.  Others would prefer classical or religious music or carols.     Will you allow music all the time, or only at certain times, or not at all?

Many people like to bake cakes and food at Christmas and bring sweets, chocolates, cake or other food into the workplace.  Are you happy for that, or do you need to lay down some rules?  What about drinks?  You may not normally allow alcohol in work, but would you make an exception at Christmas time?  If so, what rules will you set around it?

Gifts and Giving

People like to give cards and presents to each other at Christmas and that, of course, is a personal decision.  But some workplaces organise a “secret santa” where each person receives a gift.  Of course this can be fun, but again you may need to set some rules about cost or type of gift.  Some people may choose not to take part and that is fine, but you need to make sure they are not made to feel uncomfortable about that decision.  I have been on the receiving end of some fairly questionable gifts through secret santa.  People think it is funny to give an offensive gift when it is done anonymously and it can be very difficult if it is not properly controlled.

This might be a good time of year to make some corporate contributions to a local charity or to encourage employees to volunteer to help others in some way.  Your employees and clients will be very supportive of you if you can give a little extra at this time of year.

Getting to Work and Flexible Working

Whether or not you already have a culture of flexible working, this might be a good time of year to relax the rules.

In the UK, the weather can be bad at this time of year and the days are short.  We have darker mornings and earlier evenings.  Travel can be difficult for people in the dark and in poor weather.  In the final run up to Christmas, there is the additional worry of drunk driving as many people have too much alcohol and don’t realise that one extra glass can make their driving very dangerous.

People have children who are taking part in seasonal activities and parents may well want to be able to take time out to attend a carol concert or school play. School holidays are an additional problem for parents to deal with and they may need some flexibility to manage childcare.   Or people may have other caring responsibilities, hospital visits or older people to consider.  Unfortunately, these arrangements can become more difficult at holiday times.

Strained Relationships

Christmas should be a time to relax and enjoy ourselves. But for many, the stress just piles on us before and during the holiday period.  There is so much to organise, so many calls on our time and our money. We sometimes dread spending time with difficult family relationships or unwelcome guests and we put pressure on ourselves.  All of these things can cause major health and wellbeing issues.

Additionally, the increased likelihood of colds, flu and seasonal illnesses.  Not to mention self-inflicted problems from too much alcohol or too little sleep.

All of these things are generalisations and will not affect many of us.  But they will definitely affect a large proportion of our workforce.

Giving employees their best Christmas ever

Christmas needs careful planning – as with so many other things in the world of work!

As always, if you want to give your employees the best Christmas present, then consult with them about what works and what doesn’t work.  You will never please everybody all the time.  But if you know what the majority of people want, then you have half a chance of giving them a happy Christmas at work.

And who will benefit most from that?  The employer, of course.

This could be your best Christmas ever!

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – contact us for a no-obligation chat.

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.