How to be inclusive at work this Christmas

As the holiday season approaches, it is critical to consider how inclusive workplaces can celebrate Christmas to ensure that all employees, if they so desire, are included. Not all of your employees will celebrate Christmas, and for those who do, it can be a time of mixed emotions.

Matheus Carvalho, our Senior Inclusion and Diversity Consultant, discusses how inclusive employers can ensure that the holiday season does not leave employees feeling excluded.

Whether you’re a fan of classic cinema (like me!) or not, I’m sure you’ve seen “It’s a Wonderful Life,” one of the holiday season’s classics.

The film has a heartwarming and feel-good ending that has stuck with audiences, but it is far more complicated than that. Through a visit to a darker and other reality, the main character realises how important his existence is.

The focus of a voyage that teaches you the value of life is an emotional story, which has led to the film’s reemergence as a holiday classic. Everyone has a unique Christmas experience, therefore it’s critical that we concentrate on how everyone can be included.

In this post, we’ll look at how Christmas might generate conflicting emotions and how you can make your Christmas celebrations at work more inclusive.

The festive season brings mixed feelings

You probably came here expecting to read a blog about Christmas, not to get a movie recommendation. Where am I going with this, you may well ask?

The Christmas season can be an emotional roller coaster for many of us, with shades of light and darkness, similar to the main character’s journey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

It’s a rush to the promise of joy, light, and happiness of Christmas Day (or the hope that, like George Bailey, everything will be alright on the day itself), but it can also be fraught with melancholy.

I am originally from Brazil, and it may come as no surprise that Christmas is very important in a country with an estimated 170 million Catholics (64 percent of the population). Having been raised Catholic, I grew up seeing Christmas as a time of reflection, hope, and the opportunity to spend time with the family.

Since leaving home, I’ve spent more than ten Christmases away from my family, staying in touch with them on Christmas Eve and Day through the wonders of technology.

And, while I’ve had the good fortune of not having to spend Christmas alone because of a supportive network of friends and ‘borrowed’ relatives, I’ve been on that emotional roller coaster many times. The one in which Christmas expectations and the magic of the season can result in mixed feelings of excitement and joy, as well as loss and isolation.

How to keep inclusion at the heart of your organisation at Christmas

Here is what I have reflected on and discovered during these ten Christmases away from home, as well as the lessons they have taught me about inclusion during the holiday season:

Create a safe space for all religions, all year round

Christmas is all around you when you grow up in one of the world’s largest Christian communities. It is regarded as the ‘default’ religious celebration. It is hardly encouraged to consider that not everyone celebrates Christmas or follows the Christian faith.

One of the beauties of my experience of living in the UK has been to be exposed to the diversity of faiths and religions gathered in this part of the globe – from Islam, to Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, Buddhism, and beyond.

Any employer seeking to be truly inclusive must observe the calendar of religious celebrations and festivals all year long, and ensure that their employees feel their faith is represented, acknowledged, and respected.

When it comes to the Christmas season, keep in mind that not everyone will be celebrating or observing Christmas in the same way that many Christians do – but that doesn’t mean that people won’t appreciate and look forward to some of the Christmas rituals, such as hanging Christmas lights or gathering with family or friends. 

It’s critical to avoid making assumptions about how people feel about or celebrate Christmas.

Christmas parties are an extension of the workspace

One of my favourite parts of the Christmas traditions over here has been the work Christmas parties – and the UK really knows how to do them well!

However, it has also taught me that, even after hours, these parties are an extension of the workplace. It is an environment in which some work dynamics and relationships are allowed to play out in a more casual setting, often with alcohol involved – and things don’t always go as planned!

Employees must understand that even when they are not in the physical workplace, these events function are an extension of the workspace, and that the laws and legislation of the Equality Act still apply to them. 

When it comes to your out-of-work events, remind employees of their responsibilities and behavioural expectations.

It is also important to consider the timing of these events – while you may not be able to meet everyone’s needs, they should always be considered. Some people, for example, may have childcare responsibilities and will be unable to attend at certain times.

Be mindful of non-alcoholic options for colleagues who do not drink, as well as all dietary requirements, as they may be related to health, lifestyle, or religion and belief.

Christmas parties are also not for everyone; some people may not feel safe or comfortable being surrounded by a large crowd, and it can be an anxiety-inducing experience (especially in times of COVID).

It is important that no one feels obligated to attend such events, and you may want to consider more “low-key” alternatives to celebrations that may appeal to colleagues who aren’t going out to celebrate.

Christmas is not a magical time for everyone

As previously mentioned, Christmas can be an emotionally charged experience for some. 

As much as I am taken by the Christmas lights and hearing Judy Garland sing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas for the umpteenth time in Meet Me in St. Louis, it is also a time when I reflect on being away from my family, the loss of some of the local traditions that make Christmas feel Christmassy, and the struggle with the short and cold days of this time of year (and if you have never experienced Christmas in shorts and flip flops in the southern hemisphere, you should give it a try one day).

And, I know I am not alone in this. Christmas can be a difficult time for many people for a variety of reasons – both emotional and financial!

So, during this time, be mindful of how you support your employees’ mental health. 

It can be a good time to direct people to mental health resources, interact with mental health first aiders, and encourage help from employee networks. Make sure to encourage colleagues to check in on one another.

Try and make Christmas magical for everyone

Christmas is an excellent time to reinforce inclusion in your organisation. It is a time for reflection, celebration, and socialising. 

Use this to reinforce your company’s commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all employees. 

It is an opportunity to remind everyone of your organisation’s values, to bring people together and perhaps cheer up someone who is struggling with the time of year, or even to encourage teams to participate in volunteering – an opportunity for team bonding and giving back to the community. The possibilities are there.

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy festive season,

Matheus