3 Ways to Create Inclusive Holiday Policies

For years there has been a move in the U.S. to add a new holiday to the federal calendar, one that supporters hope will become as ingrained in public consciousness as the holiday it’s intended to replace. Indigenous Peoples’ Day was put forth as a more equitable and inclusive alternative to Columbus Day, which is now seen by many as honoring a moment that ushered in American colonization and its associated offenses. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is intended to honor the deeply wronged indigenous population.

As a federally recognized holiday, Columbus Day has always been honored with paid time off, forcing many employees to acknowledge a holiday they don’t support. This raises questions regarding equitable paid-time-off policies, both globally and in the U.S. After all, many people don’t celebrate Christmas, but it’s honored with PTO across many industries and organizations. Meanwhile, religious minorities around the world struggle to find the time they need to celebrate their holidays.

So what steps can HR take to rectify these inequities?

“It’s so important to ensure that everyone in your organization’s workplaces around the world can take some time to celebrate holidays that they cherish,” says Dania Shaheen, vice president of strategy and people operations at Kazoo. “HR can play such a huge role in laying that foundation.”

Here are some steps you can take to ensure equitable holiday policies at your organization.

Offer Flexible PTO

In addition to regional government-mandated holidays, employees should have the option to take a few days off per year as needed for personally recognized holidays. “Flexible PTO means that employees take paid time off when they need it — they don’t accrue time off and they don’t have a limited number of days to use each year,” says Christina Galoozis, media relations and content marketing manager at West Monroe Partners. “This policy is based on a two-way street of trust and empowerment between the organization and its employees.”

This is especially important for international companies. Instead of having different designated days off per region and culture, flexible PTO can be applied globally. It also makes holiday observances more inclusive and prevents any one employee from being singled out. It’s critical to empower employees to create their own schedules around their holiday observances.

Trust Your Employees

Trust is a necessary component of flexible PTO, Galoozis says. Your employees trust you to consider and respect their overall quality of life and that extends to religious and cultural holiday observances. Giving your employees agency to observe their holidays shows you care about their overall well-being, not just their contributions during the work week.

“It’s so important to trust your employees to not take advantage of the organization,” Shaheen says. “You can’t know and anticipate every holiday everyone celebrates, but you can respect their right to do so.” This is especially true for global companies. Empowering your employees to take the time they need to spend honoring their cultural and religious traditions with family fosters healthy employee relationships built on trust.

Celebrate with Your Staff

It’s important to acknowledge all of the holidays observed within your workforce. No one observance should be privileged over another. “Part of prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion is having an open environment in the workplace,” Shaheen says. “Encourage your employees to bring their celebrations and observances to work.”

HR can facilitate a people-first perspective that allows and encourages individuals to be open about their holiday observances. You can even ask employees to share their culture and holidays with coworkers, if they’re comfortable with that. The workplace has to be an open and friendly environment that celebrates differences, Shaheen says. This mindset will help your entire workforce to be more respectful when a coworker might be fasting, which feeds back into employee satisfaction and well-being.