Ask DiversityInc: How Does Your Company Handle Religious Holidays?

When allowing employees to celebrate the holidays with tasteful decorations and celebrations, how do organizations make sure that people are not offended?

Q: How do other organizations allow their employees to handle holiday decorations and celebrations? We want to allow people to tastefully decorate/celebrate and we also want to make sure that we are not offending people.


A: Before we answer this question directly, we'd first like to address the issue of religion in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion, national origin, race, color or sex. Companies abide by this policy, but the more progressive ones create inclusive environments in which employees are encouraged to integrate their mandated religious practices into their day-to-day jobs. This helps companies build loyalty, raise morale and productivity, and reduce one of the hidden costs of ignoring religious diversity: absenteeism.

  • Nine years ago, only 42 percent of the DiversityInc Top 50 had floating religious holidays, compared with 74 percent in 2011 and 78 percent in 2012. Sixty-six percent of all participants in the 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 survey had floating religious holidays. To put these statistics into perspective, a "Religion and Corporate Culture Survey Report" by the Society of Human Resource Management found that just 28 percent of 513 respondents offered paid leave for days that are not part of their regular holiday calendar.
  • Seventy percent of the DiversityInc Top 50 companies have onsite religious accommodations, such as prayer rooms, compared with 32 percent eight years ago.
  • Twenty-eight percent of the DiversityInc Top 50 companies have religion-based resource groups versus just 5 percent eight years ago.

For more information on religion in the workplace, visit BestPractices.DiversityInc.com to read "Best Practices on Religiously Inclusive Workplaces."

These statistics are important when it comes to handling holiday celebrations. Official holidays in the United States are predominantly Christian. This means that most of the holiday celebrations will be of Christian background. Celebrating other religions during this time can get tricky. Religious holidays should be good educational opportunities—we value differences instead of homogenizing them. So celebrating—and offering cultural-competence training—on religious holidays is critically important. Here are some suggestions to ensure your company's holiday celebrations are inclusive of all religions and run smoothly.

Proactively Accommodate

Some issues are constants, such as wearing religious attire or the need for time off for observance. Other issues, such as celebrations, occur once or twice a year. Thinking through what policies will work for your organization and making sure all employees know which accommodations are available before they have to ask are critical.

Implement a Process & Clarify It

Employees are often uncomfortable asking for what they need. Implement a process for requesting celebrations and make it clear. Train managers to respond to requests appropriately and make sure everyone knows HR is a resource.

Get Help

If you have a religious resource group, utilize it to educate your employees about all religions. If you don't have a religious resource group, go to the one place that is sure to have people from different religious backgrounds: your other resource groups. Bounce ideas/requests off of members and gain valuable insights.

At American Express, No. 14 in The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity, there are longstanding religious groups for Christians, Jews and Muslims. All three groups are encouraged to educate their colleagues about their culture and share their traditions. The groups host events around the holidays. While the company has no formal policy regarding office decorations, all employees are encouraged to express themselves in a manner that is respectful of those around them.

Surveys

Use surveys to gain critical feedback on implementing or expanding celebrations. Incorporate questions specific to religious celebrations in your diversity surveys. Gather, analyze and share responses with key stakeholders and constituencies.

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