Business management

Respect workplace diversity this festive season and beyond

A strong diversity and inclusion policy could help attract and retain talent. We look at how to build a workplace that values employees’ cultural and faith-based traditions.

One key component of an attractive workplace culture is the strength of the employer’s diversity and inclusion practices. Whether and how they celebrate key religious, spiritual and cultural dates, festivals and traditions is one aspect that is sometimes overlooked by employers.

Understanding and recognising employees’ cultural and faith-based beliefs and traditions can be key to creating a culture that respects and values diversity and a sense of belonging.

Embrace balance over the year

Most businesses are well versed in the usual Christmas festivities and typically shut down for a time over the Christmas period.  

Contrast this with whether workplaces feature a hanukkiah during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, or the number of offices that closed in October to observe Diwali. Too heavy a focus on one set of traditions to the exclusion of others may lead to employers appearing dismissive and employees feeling an important part of their identity isn’t valued. This could result in poorer job satisfaction, reduced engagement and higher turnover.

For businesses that can remain open year-round, there is greater opportunity for employees to choose their own annual leave and which days they wish to take off work for religious observance or celebration.

Rather than only creating space for those colleagues who share in the tradition or practice, the best company cultures foster learning and understanding among the wider employee community

While approval of leave will be dependent on genuine business needs (and appropriate notice), allowing employees to choose whether to work or take time off on public holidays can go some way to mitigating the UK’s bias towards Christian holidays.

How should we recognise holy days, festivals and religious holidays?

There is an abundance of important dates and celebratory occasions across faiths and cultures. Within any one belief system there tends to be occasions or observances considered to be of greater importance over others.

One effective way of better understanding the needs and identities of your workforce is simply to ask. During onboarding, consider giving employees an opportunity to tell you what they celebrate and which observances are important to them (handling responses as ‘special category data’ for Data Protection Act 2018 purposes). 

If your organisation has a multicultural network or committee, involve them in plans as they will often have a clear understanding of employee needs and will be well placed to take on the mantle of organising events

If your organisation does not have such a group, we recommend forming one to champion and support colleagues from all faiths, ethnicities and cultures, enabling them to thrive within your organisation.

How do we celebrate?

Shutting down multiple times over the year to celebrate various festivals and holy events is not a viable option for most businesses. Recognition is an important part of celebrating diversity though. This can be achieved through a newsletter or article on the company intranet, for example, explaining the significance of the occasion.

Rather than only creating space for those colleagues who share in the tradition or practice, the best company cultures foster learning and understanding among the wider employee community. A great way to encourage this is to ask colleagues or external speakers to share their personal experiences and why observance is important to them.

Although occasions are best celebrated around the relevant date(s), if logistics or cost gets in the way of celebrating each occasion individually consider arranging a shared event. Colleagues could decorate the space, and come together in dress to share those dishes and practices which celebrate their traditions or faith.

Celebration doesn’t always have to involve alcohol

Attitudes and expectations concerning alcohol vary widely within and between faiths. Always consider whether consumption of alcohol would be appropriate to the occasion. And keep in mind that faith is not the only reason staff abstain from alcohol.

Drinkaware’s review of various health surveys found that 20% of adults in England and Wales (17% in Scotland, and 19% in Northern Ireland) do not drink alcohol. Some surveys indicate sobriety is on the rise, so it’s important to hold different formats of celebration, beyond just alcohol-fuelled soirées, to ensure everyone feels welcome. Alternatives include quizzes, guest speakers, performances of song or dance, and even donations to relevant charities.

Be a considerate employer

Adding a calendar containing prominent religious/spiritual/cultural dates can help managers keep track and ensure they avoid booking team events while their Muslim colleagues, for example, are fasting during Ramadan.

You may have seen an increase in businesses asking if recipients want to receive Mother’s or Father’s Day communications. It is also important to recognise that celebratory times of year such as the Christmas period can be financially difficult, especially this year during the cost of living crisis. Some colleagues may find it emotionally challenging if they have suffered a bereavement. 

Take the opportunity to remind colleagues of the support available to them and, where possible, the option to be left out of communications.

We have lots more guidance on diversity and inclusion, staff well-being, and the cost of living on our Insights Hub.

If you feel you could benefit from free business tools, resources and guidance, sign up to NatWest MentorDigital and get access to employment law, HR, and health and safety support. You don’t need to bank with NatWest. NatWest Mentor also provides advice for more complex workforce matters, through a subscription service. Mentor’s subscription services incur a cost. 

Register for NatWest MentorDigital

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

scroll to top