As people become more globalised, workplace diversity is on the increase. It is becoming more common that cultural holidays vary among employees. As employers welcome and encourage diversity, consideration must be given to the needs of a multicultural workforce and flexible leave entitlements.

The summer holiday season is looming, and many employees are looking forward to a welcome break and seasonal festivities. However, for many HR managers they have to make sure that traditional Christmas celebrations are not imposed on employees of different cultures and belief systems.

Should an event such as Christmas be highlighted in the workplace?

Despite the sharp decline in the percentage of citizens who identify as Christians over the past century, Australia is still considered a Christian country and celebrating Christmas is a national tradition. For decades employees have eagerly decorated their workstations and many companies adorned public areas.

But has the time come to wind back on these traditions?

Not necessarily! Firstly management must consider the diversity of their workforce, and Christmas traditions must be written into HR policies. Most people, irrespective of their religious beliefs, celebrate the holiday season as a time of caring, joy and relaxation. Colourful decorations and festivities that embrace those principles add to the atmosphere and everyone can join in. In other words, tinsel and fairy lights are fine; a nativity scene is probably not.

Is it necessary to recognise different cultural days in the workplace?

Yes, if you want to be regarded and as an employer of choice and avoid accusations of discrimination. You should allow employees to observe and celebrate religious and cultural holidays that are not official public holidays. There are different ways that you can accommodate staff. They can take days from their annual leave entitlement, or you could possibly allow flexi-time. You can agree to unpaid leave, but only if you believe the request is warranted. Always consider individual circumstances when you receive a request for leave and make fair decisions on a case by case basis.

Denying someone the opportunity to celebrate their cultural traditions could result in an allegation of discrimination being levelled against your organisation. It is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees because of their religion or national extraction. Familiarise yourself with unlawful discrimination and the different cultural and religious dates so that you can accommodate employees.


The benefits of celebrating cultural events and dates

Acknowledging small things in people’s lives brings a human element into the workplace. Sharing information about upcoming cultural events and dates via internal communication platforms can lead to greater understanding among a diverse workforce. When people understand something, they are more inclined to accept and less prone to hearsay and bias.


Embracing cultural differences in the workplace can lead to:

  • Improved productivity
  • Improved team spirit
  • Improved job satisfaction
  • Reduced employee churn
  • Reduced workplace conflict


Employers have to lead by example

There is little value in promoting diversity and inclusivity without management putting it into practice. Biases can run deep and can be very subtle, but they are very damaging. Senior management drive a company’s culture, and the workforce follows suit.


Celebrating and educating staff including management about cultural events and dates must be an ongoing practice. There are plenty of innovative ways that an HR team can get these messages across, such as sharing details about cultural days and encouraging employees to participate and contribute.


That alone, however, will not change attitudes because people often lack in-depth knowledge, mental tools and social skills to understand and adjust. iHR offers anti-discrimination training in various modules and options. External training ensures that your employees not only understand but genuinely embrace cultural diversity.

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