Deck the halls without the folly
All the staffers must be jolly.
Thus, to get around a quarrel
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
Poll the office is the moral.
Could too many decorations
Hurt coworkers’ good relations?
Please follow my etiquette advice.
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
I shouldn’t have to tell you twice.
Show respect for ev’ry custom.
Christian, Jew, Hindu & Muslim
Plan the décor, all together.
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
This could be a grand bellwether.
~A Christmas Parody to be sung to
Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly
by Jeanne Nelson
Come every December, or even earlier, people across America and around the world will be decorating their workplaces for the holidays. Early in my career, the offices in which I worked displayed holiday decorations solely comprised of Christmas décor, including the now widely banned crèches. As the years passed, token menorahs appeared, but they seemed lost among the ornamental trees, boughs, wreaths, garlands, and other Christmas- related garnishments.
Although the U.S. has always been touted as a melting pot of cultures, in many areas of the country populations have often been segregated by color, religion, ethnicity, gender, age and other factors. But, with the emergence of the Internet in the mid-1990 that sparked the latest wave of globalization, the U.S. as well as other industrial countries around the world has transformed seemingly overnight, and workplaces at least now more closely resemble the hallways and chambers of the United Nations.
The modern U.S. multicultural workplace includes coworkers of many nationalities, customs, backgrounds and beliefs. They comprise among others Christians of various denominations, Jews, atheists, pagans, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Rastafarians and Zoroastrians, many of whom observe religious or cultural holidays in December. In addition, the cultural celebration of Kwanzaa is observed by many African Americans. Finally, it should be noted that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not observe Christmas or other holidays, including birthdays.
Therefore, it should no longer be decorating as usual by hauling out those old Christmas trimmings that you’ve been using in your office for decades. Not only do you want to demonstrate toward your coworkers respect, inclusiveness, sensitivity, empathy and good taste, but you want others to view you as a consummate professional who possesses such leadership qualities. And, of course, this situation also applies to high school and college students in their approach to multicultural classmates, teachers, professors and other school and campus staff.
The last thing you want to do is create an uncomfortable work environment for anyone during the holiday season! Does this mean no decorations during this festive season? No, it just means that everyone in the workplace, school or campus should be considered and included in the holiday decorating plans.
Here are some tips to make your office, school or dorm decorations free of folly:
- Assemble a Decoration Committee to assess the office situation, consult with coworkers and determine the best approach to obtain a consensus on the office holiday decorations so they can be enjoyed by all. If your decorations must be updated or supplemented, determine whether petty cash will cover it, if the boss will contribute the funds or if an office-wide collection will suffice.
- Keep the decorations seasonal and secular. However, while the rule of thumb should be to keep religious symbols out of the holiday decorating scheme, if no one objects to or is offended by Christmas icons such as trees and Santa Claus, or Hebrew symbols such as a menorah, by all means include them. The idea is to check with all staff members to ensure that they are comfortable with the proposed decoration plan.
- Ask everyone to bring a cultural holiday dish to the office to share. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn about other celebrations and foods. Set aside an area just to showcase cultural cuisines throughout the month of December. Such a holiday food project can promote camaraderie, sharing, learning and understanding.
- Apply these same principles and approaches to decorating your personal work area, such as your desk, cubicle, office or workroom. Make sure your workspace is in keeping with the rest of the office and does not strike a sour note.
- Once the office staff have agreed on a decorating plan, the next step is to ensure that it is in good taste and not garish or overwhelming. Remember that your place of work is not your home; it’s a place of business or academia that has its own brand and reputation to maintain. Enhance the attractiveness of your workplace, don’t detract from it.
The principles of respect, inclusiveness, sensitivity, empathy and good taste also relate to corporations and organizations when decorating their lobbies, reception areas and other public spaces and to homeowners and renters when it comes to decorating their homes. Consider your neighbors and think twice about turning your home into what might be mistaken for a roadside carnival. It’s wise to check on holiday decoration guidelines with your neighborhood or homeowners’ association, and consult with your neighbors if you plan to display anything elaborate that might (1) scare away their visitors or (2) keep them awake at night!
It’s also important to your reputation that you keep in mind a good guideline regarding the length of time to display your decorations, which is from Black Friday to January 6th (Epiphany or Little Christmas). Keeping your holiday decorations and lights up beyond that can attract negative attention to yourself, or even a fine. In San Diego, California, for example, homeowners can be fined $250 for keeping their lights up after Feb. 2nd.
On the other hand, if you find yourself offended by someone else’s decorations, whether in the office, school, campus or neighborhood, be flexible, polite and tolerant. Remember that there’s always next year to get involved early to make your feelings known and try to seek a tactful way to approach the issue.
For the present, to maintain good business etiquette and best practices in a multicultural workplace, it’s everyone’s responsibility to create an environment that is respectful to all.
Until next time,