Dr. Wanda Gravett, academic program coordinator for the MS in Human Resource Management program, discusses the evolving nature of company holiday parties and shares advice for hosting inclusive celebrations and non-holiday-affiliated events.

Wanda Gravett
Dr. Wanda Gravett

During this festive time of year, offices around the world host holiday parties. It’s not only a time to celebrate the holidays, but it’s also an opportunity for organizations to express gratitude to their employees for all their hard work throughout the year.

The 21st-century workforce in many organizations is diverse and very complex, which can make it tricky for HR professionals working to increase inclusivity. Dr. Wanda Gravett, academic program coordinator for the MS in Human Resource Management program, says the holidays are often seen as one of the greatest challenges to ensuring all employees feel they are equally included in company celebrations.

“HR professionals are continually exploring new ways to acknowledge and embrace a diverse workforce, specifically creating an environmental fabric of inclusiveness where employees feel welcomed and valued as equal members within the organization’s culture,” says Dr. Gravett.

This year, 65% of companies plan to host a holiday party, according to the Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. 2018 Holiday Party Survey. Dr. Gravett offers the following advice for organizations:

  • Your planning committee should mirror the diverse workforce. Recruit a group of employees that accurately represents who works at the company to share important insights. But, it’s also important to have a manageable size for the planning committee so it doesn’t get out of control.
  • Incorporate food, entertainment, and decorations from different cultures. This is a great way to celebrate the company’s diversity and draw upon various cultures in the workforce.
  • Carefully plan your timing, invitations, and invitees. Avoid holding the event close to a holiday so it won't be associated with it. Additionally, it's important to recognize those are time frames employees would rather spend with their family, but they may feel pressured to attend a company event instead. Lastly, make attendance optional, never mandatory.

Dr. Gravett acknowledges that the larger the workforce, the more complicated it can be to include all the various traditions represented and celebrated by employees.

“This becomes more difficult as we approach what employers in the United States refer to as the holiday season, particularly in November and December where there are more than 30 different religious, secular, and pagan celebrations recognizing a variety of traditions,” says Dr. Gravett.

One-third of companies are choosing not to hold a holiday party, the highest number since 2009, according to the annual party survey. Dr. Gravett is not surprised; she says organizations are increasingly opting for alternative ways to celebrate their workforce instead.

“By creating an integrated approach that touches everyone in some way, but isn’t bound to beliefs either religious or otherwise, organizations allow their workforce to recognize the holiday season is so much more than parties and celebrations,” explains Dr. Gravett.

There are various strategies organizations are using to recognize the contributions of their workforce. For some, it can be easier to identify a cause that touches people in many ways, regardless of ethnicity or beliefs. For example, Dr. Gravett says many find a charitable cause in the community or at a national or international level that’s universal to nearly everyone, like cancer.

Other companies choose to leave celebrations to individuals by giving them an additional paid-time-off benefit often called ‘floating holidays.’ It allows organizations to demonstrate an understanding of their diverse workforce.

“Millennials are now the largest generation among the U.S. workforce,” says Dr. Gravett. “There’s a broader appeal to multigenerational opportunities within very diverse or global organizations by eliminating a tie to religious celebrations, personal beliefs, or a celebration altogether.”

In addition, Dr. Gravett explains there is less pressure to organize a holiday celebration if companies recognize employee contributions more often throughout the year. Whether it’s a monthly or quarterly smaller-scale recognition, it creates opportunities for employers to tie the initiative to their mission and build upon it for future efforts, outside of the holiday season.

“Some argue this is how it should be,” says Dr. Gravett. “People look at what you’re doing, what you say, and what you do. If your organization espouses believing in giving service or creating a positive change within the world, others will look to see if you’re really doing that.”

Ultimately, organizations have an important decision to make when planning their celebrations.

“Above all, companies need to use common sense,” says Dr. Gravett.

––Jen Raider

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