In December, it’s easy to get carried away with the Christmas spirit since, as early as late October, marketing for the holiday is seemingly everywhere (hello, Starbucks peppermint lattes). But before companies bring the Yuletide jubilee to the office, they should take a step back to consider the religious diversity of their staff and ensure that they recognize other major (non-Christian) holidays that occur throughout the year.
Of course, religious acceptance in the workplace is actually a law—Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandates that U.S. employers accommodate employees' religious beliefs and practices—but HR professionals should prioritize making religious inclusivity part of the company culture rather than just a legal requirement.
That’s particularly vital since religious diversity is growing fast: According to a Pew Research Center study, by 2050 in the United States, Christians will decline to two-thirds of the population from more than three-quarters in 2010; Judaism won’t be the largest non-Christian religion; and Muslims will outnumber people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.
Does the prospect of addressing important holidays for all faiths seem daunting? Have no fear! Here are four ways HR professionals can infuse religious awareness into the workplace:
1. Know thy holidays (even just a little)
Do you know what Yom Kippur is about? Or why Muslims fast during Ramadan? Or when exactly Vesak, Buddha’s birthday, is celebrated? By educating themselves, HR professionals can spread awareness in the office and create a more inclusive environment.
This can be as simple as sending company-wide email notices about upcoming religious holidays or sharing an office-wide calendar of all major holidays for all religions (some programs like Google have pre-built religious calendars that make this super easy). For employees of “minority” faiths, the calendar removes the obstacle of first having to bring awareness of holiday to the office and then making a case for why it’s important enough to warrant time off.
Finally, when a company is cognizant of all notable holidays, it can be sure to avoid scheduling crucial meetings and projects on those days so an employee isn’t forced to choose between work and religion.
2. Equality in decorations
Promoting religious awareness does not mean that you must ban Christmas decorations. However, know that if you do decorate the office for Christmas and Easter, you need to do the same for other religions’ major holidays if the occasion calls for it.
3. Invite cultural and religious celebrations into the office
Encourage employees to share their religious culture and holidays in the workplace by bringing in traditional decorations or food, like gulab jamun for Diwali or potato latkes for Hanukkah. Other staff members will be excited to try dishes they don’t often eat, and bonding over food is a great way to foster a warm atmosphere.
4. Rebrand the Christmas party as a New Year’s party
Why throw a Christmas party when you can hold a non-denominational New Year’s party that everyone can enjoy? Your employees will be pleased that you acknowledge and respect that not all of them celebrate Christmas. Take this time to reflect on the past year’s successes, thank your employees for their hard work, and cheers to the year ahead (and leave Santa out of it).
Promoting awareness and acceptance of all major religious holidays in the corporate workplace can be a fun exercise that also fosters goodwill amongst staff. And when it comes down to it, who wouldn’t want good cheer in the office all year long?