Let’s be honest, the holiday season is a complicated time. It’s easy to get excited by all the enthusiasm and forget that not everyone celebrates the same holidays, or even if they do, they might not celebrate them in the same ways. The workplace cultural landscape can be nuanced and complex. It can be difficult to know what’s friendly and appropriate to say and what isn’t. Here are some guidelines we find helpful when talking to colleagues with diverse cultural backgrounds, and those who work remotely, around this time of year:
If you’re not sure, play it safe.
The first step is to consider who you’re speaking to. For example, can you say “Merry Christmas” to a coworker who you know celebrates Christmas? Sure. However, if you’re unsure or addressing a group, we think it’s usually best to keep it generic. Stick to “Happy Holidays” or “Happy New Year.”
It never hurts to politely inquire.
You can ask, “Do you celebrate anything at this time of year?” or “Do you make New Year’s Resolutions?” If not, it’s okay to leave it at that. Some cultures and religions don’t celebrate anything in the winter.
Don’t rub in the office fun when speaking to remote employees.
While the office holiday party can be a grand old time of wine and karaoke, don’t spend the first five minutes of the next meeting chatting with your HQ peers about how awesome it was while a remote co-worker waits on the other end for the laughter to stop and the meeting to start. If they ask, of course feel free to reply with a few key highlights (food was great, train ride home was long, etc,) but keep it brief!
Don’t ask about friends and family, unless your coworker brings them up first.
One factor that complicates the holiday time even further is the implication that it’s a joyous occasion to gather with friends and family. That’s not the case for everyone. If you’d like inquire about your co-worker’s holidays plans, keep it open-ended: “Do you enjoy traveling this time of year?”
Express your appreciation.
You can do your best to use culturally neutral holiday greetings, but gratitude can work just as well, if not better. If you’re uncomfortable saying “Happy Holidays,” you can instead try, “I hope you enjoy the break. You’ve earned it!” If you don’t want say “Happy New Years,” you can simply say, “Thanks for all the hard work you’ve done this year!”
The holiday season can be difficult to navigate. It’s a good idea to try to be respectful of different backgrounds and cultures. It helps to keep holiday-related sentiments cheerful, simple and open-ended. This season may also be tough on your remote workers. They get to see the leftovers of all the HQ fun without enjoying any of it themselves. Make sure they know they’re appreciated and being thought of as well. (Dina, Brandon, Wayne, Karla, Alyssa, Amelia, Graham, Mike, Emi, Christian, Brian, and all our coaches – We love and appreciate you!) But don’t worry! Even if you don’t say the perfect thing to every person on your team, your co-workers will appreciate that you made the effort to show them you care.
– The Lingo Live team
Want to read more blogs about company culture? Check out Your Company’s Culture is Who You Hire, Fire, & Promote and Diversity is Only the First Step Towards Inclusion.