How to Handle Religious Holidays in the Office

A personal topic like religion can often be a sensitive one, especially in the workplace. Conversations surrounding the subject can become more frequent in the Fall and Winter when many celebrate their beliefs with religious holidays. Here are some tips and insights to help you navigate this topic sensitively.

Five Tasks You Can Do Today

  1. Make sure all employees understand which holidays are official office holidays when the office is closed, what the policy is for taking time off over the holidays (for both hourly and salaried employees) and who they should talk to about taking time off for a religious holiday that does not correspond with an official office holiday. Be careful with this last one. Even if you or the C-Level Executives don’t take certain holidays “seriously,” that doesn’t mean your employees don’t (this goes for non-religious holidays, too, like Veteran’s day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day).
  2. Ask employees to submit their requested time off ahead of time (especially for December holidays) so that the leadership team can plan workload appropriately.
  3. If you are new to the company, ask a seasoned veteran how holidays have been handled in years past. Better yet, ask your own team and whether or not they have feedback.
  4. Talk to your manager or HR about planned holiday activities such as a holiday party or gift exchange.
  5. Get a read on what your team’s expectations are for religious holidays, especially regarding time off. Again, you might not expect to have flexibility for religious holidays, but that doesn’t mean that your new hire doesn’t. The last place that they worked could have had a much different policy from what you are used to.

To Gift or Not to Gift?

One of the most stressful parts of the holiday season is shopping for gifts and this becomes even more stressful if you don’t know if you should get your boss or reports a gift. This includes birthdays, too. A good rule of thumb here is to buy things for no one, or to do a big group gift to the whole team. For example, if you a have a favorite cookie recipe, bake a few batches and leave them in the shared employee kitchen with a note wishing everyone a happy new year.

If you really want to get your manager or reports special gifts, make them small and personal, and give it to them privately.

Use Tact

Generally speaking, most people aren’t going to be offended if you accidentally wish them a happy holiday-they-don’t-celebrate. However, they’re probably going to get annoyed if you force them into participating in some kind of religious-holiday-specific event or if you they have to remind you again and again that they do not celebrate the same holidays that you do. If you want to be seen as a thoughtful co-worker, you don’t need to bake everyone Christmas cookies or organize an office charity drive. Simply listening to other people talk about their religious holidays instead of just talking about your own will go a long way and it will even help you to remember who celebrates what.

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