18 June 2023 |

Is it time to rethink holiday policies at work?

By Hebba Youssef

There was a moment in time where I wouldn’t tell any of my coworkers about the holidays I was celebrating. I would just quietly put in PTO and tell them I had a day off planned. 

It probably stemmed from feeling like an outlier growing up because I was one of the few kids in my school that didn’t celebrate Christmas. I was always the odd one out. When others would come back from the holidays talking about the presents and cool toys they received, I had nothing to contribute. 

I desperately wanted to fit in and feel included. 

Spoiler alert: Employees feel the same about work. 

Employees want to belong and feel included at their company. 

When employees feel a strong sense of belonging they:

  • Are more engaged 
  • Are more productive 
  • Are more likely to stay at an organization 

Somewhere your employees may feel excluded? 

Your company’s holiday observations. 

In America holidays are heavily influenced by Christian traditions and celebrations. Leaving those that do not celebrate those holidays out and forced to use PTO for their celebrations. 

If our society and our workplaces are becoming increasingly more diverse – why haven’t our holiday policies evolved to reflect that?

Well, there have been some recent improvements. 

Take today for example, it is Juneteenth!

Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in America. It is known to some as the second Independence Day and is important in the Black community.

Cough and our history as a country cough.  

Juneteenth celebrations date back to 1866 but it did not become a Federal holiday until 2021. It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Day in 1983. 

Companies that follow the Federal holiday schedule gave this day off, but what about the other holidays that aren’t federally recognized or companies that don’t follow the Federal holiday schedule?

Well, employees are expected to use PTO to partake in celebrations. 

But, that feels unfair? 

How do we account for our multicultural and multi-religious companies and promote more inclusive holiday practices?

Enter: HR. 

What can HR do to create inclusive holiday practices?

I get it, we can’t take off every holiday otherwise we’d be working maybe half the year. Wait, that kind of sounds like the dream… 

But HR teams can do quite a bit to ensure holidays are as inclusive as possible! 

Here are 3 tips to get you started:  

1. Audit your current holiday calendar. Start planning for next year now and begin planning what other holidays you may want to add? This calendar lists out all the cultural and religious holidays

    Bonus: you don’t have to take off every one of these holidays to acknowledge them and spread awareness…

    2. Consider floating holidays. You may not be able to add one more holiday to your extensive calendar, so how about offering 2-3 floating holidays? Give your employees the power to recognize their own holidays with a floating day. 

    To note: If you go this route be sure to have a policy around how these floating days get used! The worst thing would be to offer these days with zero guidance on how to use them. Here’s a sample to get you started. 

    3. Foster discussions & feedback. How can you know what your employees want if you don’t ask? (You can’t). You can always ask your employee what types of celebration they’d like to see more of through formal surveys or informal conversations.

    This paper has a ton of helpful tips as you think about how to create more inclusive and equitable holiday and celebration practices in the workplace!

    One last note… 

    In honor of Juneteenth here are 28 ways you can thoughtfully celebrate today

    BTW: celebrating a holiday is a nice thing to do. 

    Even better? Making thoughtful changes in your organization to ensure that everyone feels like they belong and can succeed. 

    That means constantly revisiting your policies and procedures to ensure they’re equitable. 

    Next week I’ll dive into promoting equity in the workplace.