Season 4 • Episode 5

How your organization celebrates holidays at work impacts your culture and employee experience. When you recognize your employees’ backgrounds, you help create a culture of belonging, whereas ignoring your employees’ identities may lead to disengagement and increased turnover. Tune in to today’s podcast as DirectEmployers’ Candee Chambers and Mikey Meagher share practical tips and guidance on how to show employees you value differences and welcome them to bring their whole selves to work – holiday celebrations and all.

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About DE Talk

For DirectEmployers, it’s all about valuable connections and meaningful conversations. This monthly podcast features honest and open dialogue between powerhouse industry experts on a variety of HR topics ranging from OFCCP compliance advice to emerging recruitment marketing trends, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and insightful solutions that help infuse new life into your HR strategies.

Hosted by Candee Chambers, Executive Director of DirectEmployers Association.

Episode Guest

Mikey Meagher

Mikey Meagher

Manager, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Strategies

Mikey Meagher is the Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategies at DirectEmployers Association and is focused on fostering relationships with veteran and diversity organizations to promote workforce inclusivity. Mikey began her career recruiting within the IT industry, which made her transition to DirectEmployers partnership team a natural progression as relationship-building and strong communication are core components of both. Within her current role, Mikey works to facilitate conversations between Members and existing partners and provide outreach resources to both parties, as well as identify, develop, and promote new local and national level partnerships. Mikey holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminology from University of Florida, a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Jacksonville University, and is a certified Windmills Trainer and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion professional.

Episode Transcript

Candee Chambers:

Get ready. The DE Talk Podcast starts now, insightful conversations and dialogue, helping you put the human factor back in HR.

When it comes to winter holidays, Christmas takes immediate focus for many. However, this isn’t the only holiday celebrated during the season. As many workforces diversify, a more inclusive approach is to recognize that employees come from a variety of faiths and traditions that mark special days at many different times. As diversity continues to flourish in your workplace, it’s essential to celebrate religious and cultural holidays respectfully, showing your employees you value differences and welcome them to bring their whole selves to work, holiday celebrations and all. I’m Candee Chambers with DirectEmployers Association, and I am really excited today to welcome a fellow DE staffer, Mikey Meagher, the Manager of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategies to the conversation.

Today’s conversation is one that has been on the minds and hearts of many around the holiday season, how to celebrate the holiday season inclusively. This is a topic that has come up in our own workplace as we have several employees of different backgrounds, both from cultural and religious standpoints. And if we are having these conversations as a mid-sized organization, others are likely doing the same. So let’s kick this off. Mikey, like I said, it’s great having you join us today.

Mikey Meagher:

Thank you, Candee. It’s good being here as well. I typically do this externally, so it’s always fun to be in your own organization and having those internal conversations as well.

Candee Chambers:

I agree. And you know what, this is right up your alley and we’ll talk a little bit about what we’re doing, but this is kind of an experience for you as we get our own ERG kicked off, which I know you’re spearheading. So gosh, as you know already, the workplace is becoming more diverse and with that you have so many beautiful cultures, traditions, festivities, and celebrations that come along with it.

Only a few decades ago, a Christian identity was so common among Americans that it could almost be taken for granted. And as recently as the early 1990s, so what, 30 years ago, about 90% of US adults identified as Christians, but today about two thirds of adults are Christians. So that’s quite a big change. That’s a lot to unpack. And that statistic alone, which supports the need for inclusive holiday celebrations right off the bat. And Mikey, did you know that there are over 20 diverse holidays celebrated between October and February? Over 20.

Mikey Meagher:

I know. I recently just read that information, and I’m humbled to say I was not aware of that many.

Candee Chambers:

Yeah, I didn’t either. Obviously we all know Christmas, but Kwanzaa has taken a bigger role, I think, in the workforce. Fortunately, I worked with Mary Cofer, I’m going to throw her name out there, and I learned about Kwanzaa over 20 years ago from Mary. But gosh, Diwali and Hanukkah, of course, everyone’s known about Hanukkah for years. But gosh, Mardi Gras is included in there. And who doesn’t love Mardi Gras, right?

Mikey Meagher:

Well, I was going to say, I think in kicking this off and learning that statistic with that many holidays and cultural celebrations from October through January even brings a good point that us, I think as individuals do a lot to only worry about yourselves and your own culture and the holiday that you celebrate around the family, because it’s all centered around relationships and building those relationships. And I think that’s where the workplace can come in and bringing so much more awareness to what’s going on with these different holidays.

Like I said, I’m humbled enough to say I had no idea. And if this is something that we can go and share and bring that awareness into our own organization and our members too, then definitely need to be having more of these conversations. And I think it’s a good way to discuss how we can be inclusive with different inclusive communications and how we’re centering our brands during this time and the holidays and just building upon those relationships and flourishing the new ones within our organization.

Candee Chambers:

You know, you bring up a really good point. This kind of reminds me, gosh, my older daughter is 39, and when she was in middle school, that was when there was a lot of discussion about, we went through the time where it wasn’t appropriate to say Merry Christmas and everyone wanted to say Happy Holidays. And then it kind of went back and everyone’s at Merry Christmas again and that sort of thing. But it was really interesting because she had a choir concert and they had sent out a note and said there would be no Christian songs being sung during the concert. And they would sing various other fun songs. Wouldn’t be the 12 Days of Christmas. They didn’t even do Santa Claus is Coming to Town, but they sang Jewish songs in support of Hanukkah and other religions, which I am perfectly happy with.

And I think that’s a learning opportunity for children and for adults as well. But I think hopefully what has happened, and I think this podcast will be an example of what we try to do here at DE, and that’s to, as you said, be inclusive and bring all the religions in, where all of the protected classes or whatever the subject matter might be. But I think people are accepting of other religions and other cultures, but don’t cross out some that are important to other employees. Does that make sense to you?

I would much have preferred to say, we’re going to teach about all of the religions in this choir concert. We’re going to have songs celebrating Kwanzaa, we’re going to have songs celebrating Hanukkah, we’re going to have songs celebrating whatever, instead of crossing one off and then bringing the other ones to the forefront. And I think that you’re going to obviously have people that are distraught by that. And I think the best way to do it is to bring all of the religions or whatever this situation is you’re celebrating, but all of the religions together and help everyone learn. Do you agree?

Mikey Meagher:

Yes, exactly. And it’s goes back to culture in the office, and it’s that large umbrella term that talks about someone’s social behavior, what they believe, what they do as art, laws, customs, even their own capabilities. And then what kind of lifestyle are people in your office leading and what are the different opinions?

This matters because when you talk about a sense of identity and belonging in an organization, I think as an employee or an individual, identity is how you view yourself. And that sense of belonging is how others view and accept or don’t accept you. So if you are already deeply rooted in a religion that’s important to you and surrounds a holiday and it has a holiday attached to it, but your coworkers don’t view you that way or see you as having that same kind of passion, that can have a big impact on somebody in an organization because it’s how they identify. But there’s been no opportunity for them to bring up to the forefront.

Candee Chambers:

You’re exactly right. When I was mentioning Kwanzaa that Mary taught me about, gosh, 20 years ago, I had the good fortune to learn, but a lot of people don’t have that opportunity to work with people who celebrate differently than they do. And so they don’t have that opportunity to learn about other religions. But I think the key piece to think about is Mary, for instance, celebrated Kwanzaa and Christmas, and I have several Jewish friends who celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. I used to tease them about gosh, that’s a lot of days to get presents. That’s not a bad … That’s a bad way to joke about it.

But that’s something that they celebrate. Maybe they’ve married someone who’s of a different religion and they celebrate both and good for them. And why can’t we do that in the workplace? Why can’t we learn and appreciate, that’s probably a better word, appreciate what other people bring to the table? I think that would really go a long way and people would feel more comfortable sharing what they can then about their religion. You think?

Mikey Meagher:

Oh yeah, exactly. And you’re taking a focus on someone and just you saying maybe employees are celebrating different holidays. During Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from dawn to dusk. So if as an employer, be mindful of who is celebrating that. Maybe your company is doing something physical during that time, some volunteer work that requires a lot of physical activity. You want to be aware of what’s going on. You might have people fasting during these days and that’s probably not the best time to have company-wide initiatives like that.

Candee Chambers:

Yeah, like we have.

Mikey Meagher:

Yeah, you have just those different things going on. So it’s more than I think just the identity of it. But does an employee have to, do you value them enough to know that we have employees that celebrate this, we’re not going to schedule it during that time because they may not feel comfortable hearing that they’re fasting right now and then they want to be a part of this event. But so many different things to consider when it’s not just about how many celebrations are going on at the time, but who we’re aware of that is doing the celebration, if that makes sense.

Candee Chambers:

Well, yeah, no, and you’re exactly right. And you’re giving me some ideas for how to celebrate holidays inclusively. There’s so many celebrations and like I said, we only talked about over 20, but I’m sure there’s a lot more. But as I said in the intro, I want people to bring their whole selves to work. I want people to feel comfortable saying who they are. And I want us to be smart enough to not make disrespectful decisions on making a person get involved in something that is really a difficult time for them to get involved or it’s not something they want to do at that time. But I don’t want them to ever be afraid. And I’m sure our members don’t want people to be afraid to have them be honest and say, this isn’t a really good time.

So building that inclusive celebratory time or approach to all that you do in the workplace, I think is what will allow employees to be themselves and say, “Hey, could we maybe push this a month or two down the road,” or something like that. Especially if it’s a volunteer activity, for instance. But I think, oh, go ahead. Yeah, I think that’s the most important thing. But go ahead.

Mikey Meagher:

Yeah, no, I completely agree. And it’s just going back to that, we’re made up of so many things that make us important as individuals and employees and significant and special. So when a company celebrates that and sees you, it makes you want to work harder and it brings that sense of loyalty back. And it’s so important for companies, I think, to understand that impact, surrounding cultures that are being celebrated and having it amplified at work. And not even just celebrated at work, but maybe talked about through the year, do we have something that’s digital and visible about what we’re celebrating throughout the year? And when we build relationships here, we don’t just check a box once a year and say, all right, we celebrated each other, we’re collaborating all year long and talking all day long and-

Candee Chambers:

Exactly.

Mikey Meagher:

It’s more than that and it just needs to be viewed as a relationship building tool essentially too. Learn about one another.

Candee Chambers:

Well, and that’s what I think every employer wants to see is employees that are happy, that are loyal to the organization and who don’t want to leave. Fortunately, knock on wood, we don’t really have much turnover at all here at DirectEmployers. And so that makes me very happy. And we’re obviously doing a lot of things right, but we’re always ripe for improvement. I have some ideas on, hopefully we could give some advice on how to maybe be a little bit better in your own workplace and celebrate holidays inclusively, but this kind of goes without saying, but collect employee feedback. I’m all about collecting employee feedback. The most important thing is that once you do that though, you have to act on the information you’ve gained.

You can prioritize your efforts, you can set a foundation for future successes and you need to always gather insights into your employees’ needs and requests. And maybe consider asking questions like, what holidays would you like to see recognized in the office? And what cultural celebrations are important to you? What else should we know about the holidays that are important to you? I’m certainly not an expert because I don’t know much about other religions, but I’m all ears. I’m anxious to learn. And if there’s something that we haven’t even mentioned, gosh, I want people to feel comfortable saying, “Hey, why can’t we celebrate this?”

Mikey Meagher:

Exactly. And there’s so much that companies can leverage within their own organizations and doing everything you just said. And one of that would be, it’s something to always go back to, but is working with your company’s ERG groups. And it’s something I say simple, but also something as broad as large companies have various subsets of their ERGs. So maybe one of your ERGs is solely dedicated to all these different holidays and culture celebrations that if you have somebody who just celebrated Diwali, they’re a member of your inclusive holiday ERG and there’s a time and a day you can set something up or do a lunch and learn through that. And as you know, allies are also invited to that. So really it’s open to anybody.

But I think that’s a great way for a company to be able to utilize that and also grab insight on what holidays are being talked about and celebrated so that at the higher level during your holiday party time or whatever that may be, you at least have a good knowledge base and you know you can mention and bring up these holidays and it just makes everybody feel so much more included and going back to that sense of belonging. So I think if that would be a huge way to utilize in terms of being able to make sure you’re not letting anybody feel left out with inclusive holidays.

Candee Chambers:

Well Mikey, I mean you’re just kicking off our ERG this year and I know you’re working with several of our team members, but you know are working with Deanna, our HR director, and she normally puts out a holiday calendar. So I’m going to ask that you include all of the global holidays or various awareness days to our calendar, okay? That would be I think nice. She always puts that out at the very beginning of January. So why don’t you work with her to add all of that? I think that would be great. And that’s a nice start to the intro of our ERG, so I know you’re working on that right now.

Mikey Meagher:

Yes, definitely.

Candee Chambers:

Yeah, no, I think something that we just did as a thank you to our ERG when you first kicked things off, and that’s to consider offering floating holidays that will allow your employees to celebrate the cultural religious days that are important to them. We did a recent survey of DE members, thank you to the ERG, and found that 64.29% of our members are already offering floating holidays and all of which that can be used at the employee discretion, which is great to see from an inclusive point of view. And that survey for our listeners is available in DE Connect. But as a result, I just announced yesterday, we now are going to not actually include a floating holiday, but we are adding Juneteenth to our calendar for next year. And Mikey, you were there. I’m sure you heard the loud applause for that. So that was kind of fun and I felt really good about that decision. So people seemed excited about that.

Mikey Meagher:

No, I just think it’s no organization is perfect and there’s always going to be work to be done, but I think when something’s tangible and is visible and you can see impact happening. Because you can’t always see it and it takes a while as you are growing and you start to implement new things. Sometimes I think for many employees it can sound like, yeah, yeah, they’re just saying all these things but nothing’s happening. And when you’re saying there was a big applause or whatever, but I think it’s just a good step forward in any organization, like I said, for it to be visible and it’s like, okay, here it comes. Different things we’re requesting are being at least heard and listened to and thought about.

So yeah, I just think that when a company can do that, it says everything, I think, about the leadership and the people you have working there because they’re not just going to settle. If someone feels that the culture or something isn’t inclusive or could be better or whatever and they’re willing to speak up, for me that’s the kind of employee I want in my organization.

Candee Chambers:

Well, exactly, exactly. Because you want people to, as I always say, bring your whole selves to work, but that means being able to use your voice in an appropriate manner and share their beliefs. I think you hit the nail on the head a little bit ago when you said have a lunch and learn. And I was going to suggest having educational opportunities to help educate other employees about various employee preferences, get your employees involved, have them do lunch and learns. We used to do style shows for all of our various groups when I was at American Electric Power and we showed the normal attire that various cultures had grown up with. And boy, what a learning opportunity. And it’s fascinating because you sit there and you think, wow, how long does it take you to get dressed? But some of them have gorgeous outfits and then the men have beautiful attire as well.

Of course we had a very large engineering organization with people from all over the world. But what a really cool opportunity. And like I said, it was a learning opportunity, it was a lot of fun. But something that you and I have talked about is making our ERG a safe space and letting people feel comfortable having difficult conversations or uncomfortable conversations. “Well, I wanted to do this but I didn’t feel comfortable or I thought somebody would say something,” I don’t want that. I want people to be able to say that and have them reassured that people will accept them for who they are. And that’s really what I want to see our ERG turn out to be, is a safe space.

Mikey Meagher:

Yes, exactly. And like you were saying, not to be afraid to ask those questions or not ask it because you’re almost ignoring it. Makes it seem like you don’t care when maybe you’re just really shy or you don’t want to offend somebody and maybe asking the wrong question. But I think, like you said, there’s a way to do it. A way to handle it, but I think feeling ignored can feel worse in my opinion than maybe having that uncomfortable conversation where you’re like, oh wow, okay, I took that wrong but I understand why you asked this, and now you’ve worked it out and you’ve learned something.

Candee Chambers:

Yep. Where you can have that open conversation. That’s critically important, in my mind. So let’s give our listeners a little bit of advice on how they can make these activities inclusive and I’ll kick us off. I think making attendance voluntary, you’re going to have some people who love the idea of getting together. We just ran into this at our Christmas party yesterday, had a wonderful time. Some people loved that, but others don’t really feel comfortable. So you know, make it clear that attendance is optional, yet everyone is welcome. And you heard me say yesterday, I invite everybody to attend, and I invite everybody to come into the office. I don’t say that you have to come into the office because I said, gosh, I can’t say that you weren’t productive because you were over the last couple of years during the pandemic. So I’m going to say make attendance voluntary and that’s probably one of the first pieces of advice that I will offer. Do you have some?

Mikey Meagher:

Yeah. And like I said, that could be a whole other episode. And getting into the productivity and where people are feeling comfortable enough to be themselves, whether that’s in the office or away from the office. You feel better about yourself, you’re going to get more out of your employee that way. But yeah, I don’t want to go off on a tangent there, but to go back to that, maybe after the holiday season, companies send out a poll or a survey and say, what did you feel wasn’t included? What would you like to see included next year? Different things like that. Or overall, how did you feel? Not maybe just the inclusivity coming from a personal standpoint, but while you were there enjoying the holiday party, how did you feel others were viewing it too?

Because I think that there’s a lot of people out there that they’re great observers, they might see something that made someone uncomfortable that no one else caught and who knows why that could be? It could be a personal level, but I think being able to just ask that question and even getting feedback about your employees from other employees so to speak, is a good way to do some digging into how you can just be better next year. Because that’s really what it’s all about, is building that up so that you’re not repeating maybe the same mistakes or lack of inclusion in certain areas and you’re 1% better each day and that’s going to go a long way after 365 days of the year.

Candee Chambers:

Oh, I agree. I agree. One thing I think that you and I had talked about is maybe when you’re decorating. You associate red and green with Christmas and blue and white is for Hanukkah, but what about Kwanzaa? What about Diwali? What are those colors and why not maybe, yeah, Mikey, I’m giving you some ideas. So maybe you come early for Christmas and we decorate the four corners of our lobby or whatever. But that goes along with getting feedback and seeing what people would like to see us do. I think-

Mikey Meagher:

Exactly. And even for those who do want to participate, maybe the day before, the morning of, bring in a decoration that surrounds the culture or holiday that you celebrate during this time.

Candee Chambers:

Oh, that’d be fun.

Mikey Meagher:

So that there’s representation there and you’ll see who is celebrating what. And that’s another way too where maybe somebody doesn’t have to publicly out themselves, so to speak, and what they celebrate. Maybe they’re shy about it, but bringing in a decoration that no one has to know that has to come from you.

Candee Chambers:

I like that idea. I like that a lot.

Mikey Meagher:

Different things like that.

Candee Chambers:

Okay, write that down, Mikey. We’re going to do that next year. But I think-

Mikey Meagher:

I got it.

Candee Chambers:

Creating awareness of other religions and like I mentioned, having all the holidays on our calendar, recognizing those holidays throughout the year because there are a lot that are recognized or handled throughout the year. Again, try to get other employees to offer that information. In our company we’re mid-size, so that’s probably not going to be as difficult as it might be for our listeners, but hopefully we’re giving them some good tips. But one other option is to move your typical end of the year celebration to January and kind of turn it into a New Year’s celebration. And we do this in an offhanded kind of way. We celebrate the previous year’s accomplishments and then we always talk about our future goals and keep our fingers crossed to win top workplaces again. But we always try to celebrate that. So that’s always something we could do or other companies could do, especially if they have a large population. It might be easier to do something with New Year’s after the holidays, the December holidays, let’s put it that way, after the December holidays.

Mikey Meagher:

Yes, definitely. I think that that’s definitely a good tool that could be used, especially maybe if your diversity efforts are just getting started or you haven’t started them yet and you don’t know what the best avenue or appropriate way would be to handle it. I think that would be a really good starting point because again, go back and collect the feedback. Maybe you do something in January, but you know you have a percentage of your employees that maybe didn’t appreciate that, because there was no acknowledgement and they felt ignored. But now again, you have that insight. So you’d have to start somewhere. So if that’s the situation, an organization listening to this finds themselves in, you’re absolutely right. You can definitely celebrate the New Year and new beginning and what better way to find out what your employees want at the end of that year, you’re giving it to them. Because you took the time in the beginning half of the year to learn and learn about them as people.

Candee Chambers:

Exactly. And what person doesn’t like some type of celebration? It’s a time and people are so creative today with remote discussions and remote possibilities. There’s all sorts of ways to get to pull everybody together. So again, it’s just recognizing what each person brings to the table. And we have our meetings and we have a lot of people who don’t turn on their cameras and that was a learning opportunity for me. Some people don’t like to do that, I had to get used to that. But again, it takes time, but it takes patience. But it I think builds an inclusive environment and hopefully that’s what everyone is looking for. So Mikey, I’m looking forward to everything that you can do with our own ERG, and I’m anxious to have you give tips and tricks to our members as well. So I’m going to just kind of close us out here a little bit, but how you choose to celebrate holidays at work impacts your culture and employee experience that we’ve tried to describe today.

When you recognize your employees’ backgrounds, you help create a culture of belonging and that’s what it’s all about. And alternatively, ignoring your employees’ identities may lead to disengagement and increased turnover. And I like to think we’re doing something right, Mikey, because I said we really don’t have any turnover. But I really want to thank you for joining me today and thank our listeners for tuning in to today’s podcast and we’d love to share additional insights with you. So don’t hesitate to ever reach out to me or to Mikey with any questions. I can be reached by emailing Candee C-A-N-D-E-E @DirectEmployers.org. And Mikey can be reached by emailing Mikey M-I-K-E-Y @DirectEmployers.org. Boy, I never realized we both had such interesting name spelling, so I had to spell that out. But happy holidays everyone, and however you choose to celebrate, make it merry.

Mikey Meagher:

Yes, thank you so much, Candee. It was great talking with you again.

Candee Chambers:

You too. Good to see you yesterday. Mikey.

Thank you for tuning in for another episode of the DE Talk Podcast. Stay connected with DirectEmployers on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and subscribe to our emails by visiting DirectEmployers.org/subscribe to receive notifications of new episodes, webinars, events, and more.

Candee Chambers
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