News & Events

Handling the Holidays: Better vs. Best

If a salesperson were to say, well product B is better than product A, but product C is the best, which would you choose? Most would choose the 'best' option, product C. Though this seems like a perfectly reasonable way of making decisions on a regular basis, it gets tricky when thinking about business practices. The definition of best can be very subjective. Can one company's best practice in terms of diversity be applied universally? Probably not. In order to be in a position to ensure that business goals are being met, it becomes vital for companies to be in touch with their own employees and create policies that reflect those particular needs.

December can be an HR nightmare for some companies and illustrates this concept of better vs. best perfectly. Trying to have a company-wide celebration that honors the seasonal holidays, while remaining inclusive of a variety of faith traditions can become a cause of stress rather than cheer.  We learned of an interesting anecdote after perusing the comments section of an article we were featured in on DiversityInc.  An anonymous commenter shared her experience of essentially being tricked into attending a Christmas party. After years of being hounded about why she kept missing out on the company’s annual Christmas party, she decided to speak to management and share that she did not feel comfortable attending because her faith did not celebrate Christmas.
Management changed the name of the gathering to “End of the Year Celebration” and informed her that it was because of her that they changed the name. Feeling obligated to attend, she decided to make the most of it, but upon arrival at the party she saw Christmas decorations and a tree and realized that the name of the party had only been changed to superficially seem more inclusive. The commenter felt so uncomfortable at the party that she left before the meal was even served.
This is just one account but is a perfect example of what can go wrong when a company doesn’t really think through their diversity initiatives. In this case, the employer’s attempt to accommodate their employee not only fell flat, but was offensive.  From her posting, it’s clear that the employee felt betrayed and that her religious identity and choices were not respected by the company.  For some companies, a Holiday Party or End of Year Celebration is a better practice, and is more inclusive than a Christmas-themed party, but only if management follows through when it comes to the decorations, menu and activities that go along with the party. 
One thing that we at Tanenbaum think is a simple better practice is for companies to take some time to understand how their employees view December holiday celebrations and find out what’s meaningful to them. In the above example, had management sent out a survey to all its employees it probably could have gleaned some valuable feedback. Chances are that the employees themselves have some ingenious and feasible ideas for what may work at their company during this sensitive season. The commenter was likely not the only one at the company uncomfortable with the idea of a Christmas-themed party, no matter what it’s called.
Something else we recommend is trying to make the celebration and decorations involved as inclusive as possible, for example including a menorah next to the Christmas tree can be a great step. Companies can also choose to invite those who may have a minority belief system to share a little bit about their own traditions around holidays of significance for them in an effort to educate everyone. Managers can also choose to have a cultural potluck of sorts, encouraging employees to bring in a traditional dish that is meaningful to them in their celebration of holidays. Allowing employees to feel a real sense of ownership over end of year celebrations can encourage a sense of unity for the team. At the end of the day, such celebrations are meant to allow everyone a moment of joy to reflect and celebrate the accomplishments of the year, what better way to do that than by going the extra mile to genuinely make everyone feel genuinely welcome?
Here at Tanenbaum, we encourage employers and companies to find their own better practices. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." For companies, this may start with changing what's within to achieve their outward and upward goals.
For more, you can listen to our podcast on navigating the December Dilemma – or, download our 1-hour webinar on handling the holidays, available for free in our store until the end of the year!