Don't offend anyone with holiday office parties

DEAR READERS: The holiday season is here. And with it comes questions about how to celebrate the season in an office setting. Most supervisors/managers, after all, want to do something to celebrate with their staff. But how can they do it in a way that takes cultural differences into account?

“In today’s multicultural workplace, it may be time for you fine-tune your approach to holiday celebrations,” says Ed Rosheim, owner and president of Workplace Languages, a corporate language training company and international translation agency.


For starters, "You have to make parties and celebrations these days nondenominational, and attendance needs to be voluntary," says Rosheim, who adds that having different religions represented on any type of party-planning committee is an important step. "Even the decorations you use within the workplace should be considered not to infringe on the rights of others."

Rosheim offers these tips to make sure your holiday celebrations take everyone into account and leave them all in a festive holiday spirit:

Create a multicultural holiday team: Task a diverse group of employees with coming up with ideas to celebrate the holiday season in an inclusive and respectful way. Invite ideas that incorporate traditional food and customs from other cultures.

Translate your holiday message: Have any personal message you want to impart translated in each employee’s native language. “Not only will this ensure your message is understood by all, but it will also boost morale and improve teamwork,” Rosheim says.

Consider language barriers: For example, terms such as "Secret Santa" or "White Elephant" might confuse some employees if English isn't their first language. "Be sure you don't let slang and colloquialisms interfere with your holiday festivities," Rosheim suggests.

Think beyond December: If you give gifts, consider ideas that will motivate employees all year round. According to Rosheim, studies show that today’s workforce is driven by opportunities for self-improvement— so consider that when choosing presents for your staff.

Celebrate religious diversity: “Recognizing other holidays in December, such as Ramadan, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa doesn’t mean you’re being anti-Christmas,” Rosheim stresses. “It means you’re embracing the spirit of gratitude and giving across multicultural boundaries. Let everyone know their beliefs are respected and appreciated.”


Kathleen Furore is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has covered personal finance and other business-related topics for a variety of trade and consumer publications. You can email her your career questions at kfurore@yahoo.com.

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