Holiday parties should be more inclusive: Survey

Celebrating all cultures, neutral themes can boost inclusiveness
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/07/2011

About five years ago, the company Christmas party at Sigma Systems in Toronto was given a new name — the holiday party.

“We’ve become more neutral rather than focusing on Christianity,” said Georgina Costa, director of human resources at the 300-employee company in Toronto. “(We wanted to) just be more aware of the other cultures and beliefs that we have within our team.”

The holiday party does not focus on faith but is more of a celebration of the company’s accomplishments throughout the year and a thank-you to employees for their hard work, she said.

“Our business runs 24-7 so it’s not uncommon for someone to get an emergency call in the middle of the night, and that obviously takes away from family time, so it’s about also thanking the spouses for giving us their partner. And it’s more to have fun and bring that social aspect,” said Costa.

A more inclusive holiday party is something many organizations are considering, according to the latest Pulse Survey. Sixty-four per cent of respondents said holiday celebrations at their workplace should be more inclusive of all cultures and faiths, according to the survey of 654 Canadian HR Reporter readers and members of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).

However, 36.1 per cent disagreed with the idea holiday celebrations in their workplace should be more inclusive.

“It’s a Christmas thing we celebrate right now and we include everyone in that... and we decorate the office with a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree, and with various ornaments,” said Christian Hanley, manager of human resources field staff at Clark Builders in Calgary, which has 650 employees. “It’s never been an issue.”

And 69 per cent of survey respondents do not recognize other faiths or cultures besides Christianity at their workplace.

“As a construction company, the bulk of our staff is field staff so there’s all different cultures in there but we’re predominantly Anglo-Saxon Canadians in the office, so it’s not an issue as of yet,” said Hanley.

Only celebrating Christmas in the workplace undermines cultural diversity, according to 42.4 per cent of respondents.

“It makes the other people that are celebrating other cultures and religions feel less important and that it’s just not being recognized that their beliefs are as important as everybody else’s,” said Costa. “I just don’t think it’s right.”

But more than one-half of survey respondents (57.5 per cent) disagreed.

“When we have had folks here that don’t celebrate Christmas, they seem to be quite involved in the party,” said Hanley. “They don’t necessarily have to believe in the whole part of Christmas but they want to be a part of the celebration of the holiday season.”

However, 31 per cent of respondents do acknowledge other cultures at their workplace.

All faiths are recognized at Broadcast Services International in Burlington, Ont., and employees get days off to celebrate their cultures or attend religious conventions, said Brooke Eady, president.

“We’re very open to anything and we like to be inclusive and make everyone feel like they can believe in any way possible they want and that it’s OK to express in the workplace and OK to celebrate,” she said.

The best way organizations can incorporate all cultures and faiths into their holiday celebrations is by inviting employees from different cultures to discuss how they celebrate, according to 46.2 per cent of survey respondents.

“During Ramadan, people in that culture got dressed up and brought in all kinds of food and for corporate culture development, it really took leaps and bounds,” said Karen Payton, employee communications specialist and principal of Bright Communications in Halton Hills, Ont.

“Everybody got engaged and the co-workers became more collegial and there was a better understanding of diversity — at absolutely no cost to the organization.”

HR plays a significant role in ensuring inclusiveness during the holidays, according to 79.2 per cent of survey respondents.

“They set the tone of the culture and they need to educate their managers to set the tone,” said Payton.

The majority of survey respondents (80.5 per cent) said the holiday celebration is important to the morale of their organization.

“Especially in the time we’re in now... the companies that are retaining employees make them feel appreciated and understood, and having that little bit extra does make the difference,” said Eady.

“People really do enjoy it and they like to feel appreciated and part of a team and (the party) helps do that.”

Hosting a holiday party that celebrates the winter season (44.1 per cent) and putting up neutral, winter-themed decorations (36.6 per cent) are ways organizations can celebrate, found the survey.

To keep costs low, employers are: considering less expensive entertainment or venues (26.5 per cent); holding the party on company premises (17.4 per cent); not inviting significant others (17.1 per cent); or requiring employees to purchase tickets (12.7 per cent).

Last year, Eady used points from Broadcast Services International’s American Express card to buy gift certificates for a local restaurant and staff and their significant others went there for their holiday party — and it didn’t cost anyone a dime, she said.

And Hanley looks to suppliers to provide prizes and items for a silent auction for Clark Builders’ Christmas party.

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