Ask an HR Expert: How Can We Foster Inclusivity Among Our Multifaith Workforce This Holiday Season?

HR can help create a festive holiday environment for everyone, regardless of their beliefs, says a SHRM HR Knowledge Center advisor.

By Nora Harsha, SHRM-SCP November 27, 2017
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​Nearly one-third of Americans practice a faith other than Christianity or have no religious affiliation, according to the Pew Research Center. That might cause occasional tension in the workplace during the holidays. But there is no better time to promote diversity.

The business case is clear. Diversity and inclusion generate innovation through the exchange of different ideas. Employees from varying backgrounds become more engaged because they all feel valued. Productivity increases, and stereotypes are countered. Co-workers become united and treat one another with respect.

The holidays can strengthen those bonds. The season gives a multifaith workforce a chance to share their rituals of gifts, charity and celebratory feasts and to honor both their similarities and differences. You can determine which holidays to highlight based on the diversity of your company's workers. Use internal newsletters to communicate the celebrations observed by employees. Organize a luncheon featuring their traditional dishes. Consider dietary restrictions, as well as those who may be fasting under their own religious practices. Remember that an event where alcohol is served may not be inclusive to those who refrain from drinking for religious (or other) reasons.

For atheists and those who may not celebrate holidays, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, you can sponsor a volunteer day where people can spend time together serving meals, picking up litter, or participating in a clothing or gift drive.

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Here are some of the celebrations held by those of various faiths and cultures in November and December:

Gita Jayanti. A Hindu celebration of the creation of holy scripture during which people reflect on living a better life. Nov. 30, 2017.

Milad un Nabi. A Muslim holiday where people exchange gifts and donate to the poor in celebration of the Prophet Muhammad's birth. The date varies by country. Nov. 30, Dec. 1 or Dec. 2, 2017.

Hanukkah. An eight-day Jewish holiday also known as the Festival of Lights. Dec. 12-Dec. 20, 2017.

Winter solstice. Recognized for centuries by many civilizations, this ancient celebration of light includes gifts and feasts. Dec. 21, 2017.

Kwanzaa. This holiday honors the African-American family, community and culture. Dec. 26, 2017-Jan. 1, 2018.

Buddhist New Year. Depending on the country, this will be celebrated between January and April around the full moon of the month.

Gobind Singh's Birthday. This Sikh holiday commemorates the 10th Sikh Guru. Jan. 5, 2018.

How you and your employees observe the holidays may vary widely—but with HR's help, the same joy can be shared by all.

Nora Harsha, SHRM-SCP, is an HR Knowledge Advisor at SHRM.

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