x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 November 2017

Will a staff party at Christmas offend workers of other religions?

The Workplace Doctor Debbie Nicol has the answer.

It’s the end of the year and my team are putting the pressure on me, the boss, to hold a festive gathering for all the staff. This is partly because the company has enjoyed a very successful and profitable year and naturally the staff want to celebrate. However, I feel in a bit of a quandary. While, yes, the timing of the celebration will be at Christmas, not all of my staff celebrate this festival. So how do I hold a party that takes into account all religions and cultures without offending anyone? RM, Dubai

Dear RM, I can certainly empathise as it appears the world today seems to suffer from labels and norms that make things a little tight to navigate at times. We receive so many benefits from living in a multicultural world yet it can also throw us some challenges every now and then, and this one is no exception. One angle I would view this situation from is a place of common ground. If it is business results that we are celebrating, then make any celebration relevant to business regardless of the time of the year.

The first thing to consider is the date of your celebration. When will the financials be concluded for the year, with real and defined results ready for announcement? If it’s not at the end of the year, then tell your team you will hold a celebration to tie in with the results announcement. Personally I would have this announcement as far away from any other holiday or celebration time as possible, so that the results and the ensuing party have a flavour or their own.

Next up, you need to think about your approach to this party. The key here is communication. The dilemma you are facing is a habitual practice of connecting end-of-year financials with a celebration that coincides with Christmas. Habits can be broken though and this party can quite easily take place in the middle of the year – as long as everyone understands why. As you are a leader in the organisation, you most likely have the long-term in your sights, so any change made needs to contribute positively in the future.

Remember, your future success will be affected by:

• Your ability to become the ambassador of this new annual business celebration. I often see so much corporate damage by, and doubt in, leaders when an announcement is made one year (in your case, it may be announcing that there’d be no specific in-house celebrations for any religion or nationality, but rather one large business-focused one for all), and the following year, we revert to the existing way. Another example of this was one organisation I worked with that announced no increments yet continued to pay them to an “elite few” of one nationality behind the scenes. Doubt and inconsistency breed mistrust.

• Keeping the momentum going all year round, perhaps on a monthly basis with updates on how each month has contributed to the end-of-year celebration. It’s about ensuring a common language is constantly in use.

• Ensuring all corporate systems align with this announcement. One example here is that often bonuses may be linked to organisational results. So if that is the case, highlight this as a business agenda item and not a nationality-based or religion-connected celebration.

In closing, if there is still a demand for a festive party, then make it informal. Rather than organising an official gathering that requires the company to fork out and label the event, why not suggest the team enjoys a casual get-together to celebrate a great year in business? That way people can decide if they want to come or not and by not labelling it as a Christmas bash, you are ensuring the invite is applicable to all. I must congratulate you RM for your thoughts and concerns. All too often we can become too busy to be in touch with those who perform the job. Without them where would your business be?

Here’s to a great business celebration, whenever that may be.

Doctor’s prescription

There is no need to worry about offending others when we forge, find or create commonalities to celebrate.

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at debbie.nicol@businessenmotion.com for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague