12/01/2016 | Dee Yingst
Ah, the sounds of the holiday season….laughter at gatherings, sleigh bells, songs of joy, the wheezing of HR folks hyperventilating at their desks….wait…what???
The holidays can be a challenge for even the most seasoned HR professional. Decorating and partying to ring in the season is wonderful, but it's important that year-round principles like respect and diversity don't get trampled in the process. It can be a quite a balancing act.
Let's be clear: I'm not talking about overly-sanitized 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 National Cookie Day (yes, that's a thing and it's December 4th if you're interested) it's important that your celebrations don't include making anyone feel bad if they don't celebrate with you. Responsibility for this sometimes bumpy sleigh ride through the season tends to sit with HR: aren't we lucky.
Some important points to remember about holiday commemorations: they should be inclusive, respect diversity, and participation needs to be voluntary.
I know a company that invites everyone to bring in an item that represents how they celebrate with a description of the item and the occasion it represents; items are displayed in a break room. Employees are also welcome to bring in goodies that are typically connected to their particular celebration as well. No one is required, it is simply made available as a passive display that coworkers can either tune into or ignore as they see fit. It works for them and they do this instead of a company party.
Company parties may not be as common as they once were but they are alive and well, and that's not a bad thing. There are many, many opinions about what should and shouldn't happen or be included at a holiday party – Google it if you doubt me. Here are a few of my thoughts:
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 mandate. 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. Do I even need to explain why?
No mistletoe at the party. Please tell me I don't have to explain this one either.
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.