Thursday, December 06, 2007

Be careful how you give thanks 

The University of Minnesota is offering its employees "holiday" tips.
Holiday parties in December--many offices plan them. University offices celebrate the end of fall semester and look toward the start of winter. Then there's the proximity of several religious holidays. But as our workplaces become more diverse, people wonder how to celebrate in ways that respect our different religious and cultural traditions.

Celebrations are important as places where coworkers can socialize and get to know each other in informal settings. Managers need to create opportunities to thank staff for their contributions. Work flows more smoothly when successes are recognized and celebrated. Teams are strengthened and individuals are motivated when they feel their work is appreciated.

But December celebrations can cause problems if events seem to emphasize one religion or cultural tradition. If activities make some people feel excluded, they defeat team-building goals.

"The problem is that any celebration in December tends to be about Christmas," according to Beth Zemsky, formerly the coordinator of leadership and organizational effectiveness in the Office of Human Resources.
Funny thing, that. Perhaps because polls have found over 80% of Americans call themselves Christians and 90% believe in God. So when you get a group of people together and the probability of any two of them being Christian is greater than 2/3, there is a chance they might talk about the birth of Christ.

But of course, some people might be bothered by this, the article says, so you should in a party thanking your workers at the end of the year be more careful. Here are some of their suggestions:
Pick themes that everyone can appreciate, such as the end of fall semester or the beginning of winter.
Yes, nothing makes me festive quite like fighting with the snowblower and grading papers. (Maybe this is why I never did get into the Festivus thing. Which apparently someone is using.) Speaking of the grading papers, however,
Plan a time that makes sense with your workplace schedule. Think about whether December is the best time for your event. If it's a particularly busy time in your office, it may be better to plan activities for January or February. Consider celebrating another holiday, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Day--it can be a chance to learn together as a group as well as celebrate together.
So move your party to January and make it a diversity workshop too! How marvelous. I can feel my festiveness (Festivusness?) rising now!
Be aware of unintended messages. Celebrations held in December tend to make people think of Christmas, whatever the theme. Decorating public spaces with red and green or playing Christmas songs for telephone clients on hold can enhance the problem. Adding references to Hanukkah and Kwanzaa on an invitation won't change the underlying message and can be seen as insensitive to the true meaning of those events.
"Wait, never mind what we said in #1! You never can do it right, you'll always screw it up, so just don't have any parties in December. Wait for MLK Day instead."
Consider performing a community service project as a work group. Some units volunteer at food shelves or participate in clothing drives. Others participate in the United Way campaign through fund-raiser activities such as bake-offs or talent shows. Find something that is connected to the particular work of your office.
I like the idea, actually, but thinking this is going to substitute for the end of year party (or now,beginning of year Diversity Party) is pretty silly. Besides, how many acts into the talent show do you go until the guy who thinks he's funny gets up in to do a stand-up routine the goes a little beyond the "Airing of Grievances" observation of Festivus?

(h/t: Ken Doyle)