All About Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace


It’s that time of year again when people begin celebrating many different holidays – Christmas, Hanukah, Ethiopian Christmas, Kwanzaa, and many more.  For some people, the holidays exemplify hope, love, and time with family.  But for others, the holidays mean stress, tight financials, and packed shopping centers.  Many people don’t want to say the wrong thing to others who celebrate a holiday different than their own, or don’t celebrate at all.  This is especially tricky in the workplace because usually with friends and family outside of work, you have an idea of what they celebrate, and what types of emotions are evoked by this time of year.  However, sometimes, you don’t know what holidays your colleagues celebrate, and gift-giving can be contentious.  For those of us that work in the procurement field, there are many regulations about gift-giving all year round, but it’s a touchy subject sometimes even with friends and colleagues.

When I think of the holidays, I don’t necessarily think of a specific type of celebration, or decorations, or music – well, that’s not entirely true because the *NSYNC Holiday album is one of the best of our time.  But I can more describe what the holiday time should feel like, which is warmth.  Warmth by being surrounded by those that care about us, which includes family, friends, and colleagues.  My colleagues are more like family to me, which I am very thankful for – here are some tips on how to make everyone in the workplace feel included in the “warmth of the holidays”:

  • Acknowledge that some people are not comfortable celebrating the holidays, period.  If you do have a small work party, there will be some colleagues that may not want to participate – don’t draw attention to them, but rather focus on making sure people are comfortable even if it means they are not attending the party.
  • Ask for suggestions if you are planning a workplace holiday party.  When people are part of the planning, they will usually feel more included, and more open to expressing their ideas and their customs.  Also, make sure you have a party planning committee – trying to coordinate a party on your own is stressful, and you may not enjoy the party yourself.
  • Consider playing games that are fun and stress-free.  Games can be a tricky thing – they can get competitive, and they can involve gifts, and some people are not interested in any of that.  A fun game that involves neither of those two contentious elements is asking everyone to bring in a baby picture of themselves – it could be during the holidays or not, and then have people guess who each picture is.  The winner could win an hour early dismissal on the day of their choice.
  • Make sure to ask about allergies!  It’s very interesting because in many schools these days, parents are not even allowed to bring in snacks that they made at home because students have severe allergies to items like peanuts.  Airlines don’t even serve the peanuts and pretzel snacks on board anymore to avoid this situation.  However, many times, this question is not asked before people bring food into the workplace.  When someone brings in a dish, please ask them to fill out an index card with the ingredients, so that it can be viewed by everyone who is enjoying the food.
  • Talk to building management about decorations.  Many buildings may not allow decorations, perhaps because they don’t want to be affiliated with a specific holiday, or to avoid safety hazards.  If you are allowed to hang or tape up decorations, make sure to unplug any electric decorations at the end of the day. . Also, aim not to include any celebration-specific decorations, unless you have discussed it with your colleagues.  Some may not be comfortable with a poster of Santa, and some may want to contribute decorations from their own celebrations.  Again, this will build inclusivity and that feeling of belonging to the celebration, and to your workplace in general.
  • Remember, it’s not just holiday time when we should celebrate.  Certain times of the year can be stressful in the workplace.  For federal government, the end of the fiscal year is usually the most chaotic, and it can be hard to keep up morale and the positive energy.  A great way to celebrate what people have achieved is to plan a lunch outing after the chaos, so as to build team cohesion.  And it’s always important for supervisors to voice to their employees how much they appreciate what they do, not just around the holidays.

The workplace can be stressful, and we don’t want holiday celebrations to cause more stress, so just think before you bring in your life-size Santa to share with your colleagues, and make sure your colleagues know how much they are appreciated.

The views expressed in this document reflect the personal opinions of the author and are entirely the author’s own.  They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or the United States Government.  USAID is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied herein.

Samantha L Corey is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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