HR Blog

Mandatory is not Merry and Other Holiday Celebration Advice

By Dee Yingst

It’s not a celebration unless it’s inclusive, respectful, diverse, and voluntary

Don’t you just love the colors of the holiday season? The green trees… the white lights…the red bows…the blue liquid capsules of headache medicine….wait..what? 

The holidays can really be a challenge in the workplace. Decorating and partying to ring in the season is all fine and good but you have to be careful that year-round principles like respect and diversity don’t get trampled in the process.  

Let’s be clear:  I’m not talking about the sanitized and sterile flat light of political correctness.  I’m talking about an environment where everyone can feel welcome – no matter what the season means to them.

Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Milad un Nabi (The Prophet’s Birthday), Day of Reconciliation, Winter Solstice or even Cocoa Day (yes, that’s a thing and it’s December 12th if you’re interested) it’s important that your celebrations don’t include making anyone feel bad if they don’t celebrate with you. Some people choose not to celebrate any particular holiday – and that’s ok too.

Company holiday celebrations really get a bad rap. There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating a season. Nothing. Just be sure you don’t check your diversity policy at the door when you celebrate.

Here are a few reminders for your holiday celebrations: 

First, there is no such thing as compulsory fun. If you have to mandate employees to attend a company party then you have bigger problems than whether your hors d’oeuvres should be hot or cold.  A mandated event could cost you a bundle in wages for nonexempt employees too, especially if we’re talking about overtime. If it’s a formal event that includes say, a report on the state of the company, then fine go ahead and mandate it. Otherwise, you’re just mandating fun – and that’s no fun.

Leave the aerobics at the gym. Unless you enjoy paying workers’ compensation claims, stay away from limbo contests, dance contests, etc.

Hire a real bartender and stick to a drink limit. If you’re in HR and I have to explain this to you, you might want to reconsider your career choice.

No mistletoe at the party. Same answer as the bartender and drink limit.    

It’s a holiday party, not a religious event or service. We’re back to diversity again. Either the celebration includes everyone or it includes no one. It’s just common sense and will go a long way toward fostering a more inclusive workforce.

And most of all during this season: If someone wants to wish you or each other or the delivery guy/gal a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy Kwanzaa or even just a Happy Holiday understand that they are sharing their joy the way they know how. Don’t get worked up over how someone expresses their good wishes, just be glad they did.