As you search for ways to enhance your organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, consider your holiday party.
Being intentional about key elements — name, date, location, menu and gifts — is a simple way to deliver on company values like cultural awareness and respect.
Coming up with a name for your office party is all about knowing your culture. Depending on your company size and demographics, calling it a Christmas party, Hanukkah festival or Kwanzaa celebration might be acceptable.
However, focusing on the work you do instead of a particular cultural celebration can broaden the scope. Names like “Annual Employee Gala,” “Time To Celebrate” or “Charting the Future” can make the party inclusive for all and acknowledge your employees’ hard work.
DEI efforts are not about reducing or eliminating your celebrations, as noted in a legal article from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). They are about appreciating all members of your workforce. Changing the name of your party to celebrate your mission or employees can do just that.
Picking a day in December is a traditional practice for office parties. But it can present scheduling challenges and ultimately exclude subsets of your employees.
If you select a date in December, be aware of various religious and cultural celebrations and their accompanying dates, including Bodhi Day, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. In addition, December calendars tend to be chock-full of family, school and personal obligations.
It also helps to be mindful of those who don’t celebrate and those whose mental health declines during the holidays. Adding one more event could be an unwanted stressor more than a valued celebration.
For these reasons, more companies are moving their parties to January. An office party in January can celebrate the work of the past year and look forward to goals for the year ahead. This puts the spotlight on employee effort and includes everyone. It also allows employees to schedule their personal celebrations throughout December without worrying about missing the office party.
Common locations include the office, a nearby bar or restaurant, a hotel ballroom or another rented space. When selecting your location, make sure it is accessible to your employees. Physical accessibility is a must, but also remember your remote, hybrid, traveling and other off-site employees.
One option to make your party more inclusive is to hold a virtual celebration. This could be a stand-alone event or in addition to your in-person party.
When exploring physical locations, consider the comfort level of your employees. For example, individuals recovering from substance use issues may not want to attend a party at a bar.
With that in mind, attendance should always be optional. You want everyone to feel welcome but no one to feel pressured.
Your food and beverage selections are another way to respect employee differences.
Some employees may not eat certain meats or seafood, some may avoid animal products entirely, and others may have life-threatening food allergies.
Alcohol has long been a mainstay at office parties. But keep in mind that you likely have employees who struggle with alcohol or want to avoid it. SHRM notes that about 10% of Americans have substance use issues — a number that has gone up since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To meet the varied needs of your employees, offer food options for vegetarians and vegans. Provide labels or lists of ingredients for those with food allergies. If those options aren’t possible, acknowledge your limitations and encourage employees to eat ahead of time or bring their own food.
If you serve alcohol, include mocktails and other nonalcoholic beverages. Give these equal prominence in terms of promotion and placement at your party.
In addition, you can highlight festivities that don’t involve food or alcohol. Putting the spotlight on games, contests, trivia, music and other activities can encourage employees to focus on socializing rather than potentially problematic food or drinks.
Though well-intentioned, gifts are almost always challenging. Personal and office budgets are likely to be tight at the end of the year. Even if you set a dollar limit, the time and effort of finding the right present often create stress. In addition, a gift exchange opens the door to inappropriate gifts among coworkers.
To be more inclusive, move away from physical and monetary gifts. An alternative is to create a compliment board. Assign each employee a colleague’s name and ask them to write down something they appreciate about that individual. Before your party, make sure everyone receives a positive comment. Then place the board at your party and later in your office for employees to enjoy the accolades.
Another idea is to ask employees to write anonymous goals for the year ahead. They can be personal goals, company goals or both. Display them in a prominent place in your office and let them serve as inspiration.
These gifts promote positivity and enhance employee connections — and they’re free.
Demonstrate your values
An inclusive holiday party shows your appreciation for the different cultures and experiences in your workforce. It creates a psychologically safe space and can lead to positive memories your employees look forward to year after year.
For more ideas on making your annual party more inclusive, talk with your benefits adviser. They can share best practices for employee gatherings and help you examine your overall DEI efforts.
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