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Business, Economics, Education, Entrepreneurs,
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Posted September 23, 2008
Morning Column

How Businesses can Offer Holiday Happiness
by Carrie Brown-Wolf

Christmas without a manger. Hanukkah without candles. Ramadan without a feast. Is this what our culture has produced?

Today's politically correct climate calls communities, schools and businesses to question their holiday traditions. School choirs no longer sing "Silent Night" without threat of lawsuits. Community menorahs are snuffed and mangers vandalized. What should society do? Ban it all? How does a business host a holiday party without threat of discontent?

Don't toss the tree or kick the Kwanzaa candles just yet. Communities and businesses do have options. In general, people look forward to the new year, new beginnings and new celebrations. Employees benefit from a healthy holiday party or festive environment to celebrate the season.

By recognizing and appreciating diverse traditions, a business culture can thrive. An inclusive approach to the holidays sets an example of respect, tolerance and positive communication. These attitudes and values transfer into the business realm and increase productivity. Instead of selecting a secular route, embrace the holidays and a multitude of traditions that reflect your employees and society at large.

Follow these tips to create an all-encompassing holiday tone:

1. Invite individuals to present their values. This must be done in a positive, tolerant environment, but will allow people to feel as if they matter. They do. Create a visual space or a board for people to post quotes that reflect their cultural background in a constructive attitude. Hanging an oversized calendar is a great idea for employees to mark holidays and festivals. If you have a web designer, add it to your Web site and circulate e-mails about cultural tolerance.

2. Survey employees to discover their cultural heritage in a positive, informative manner. This is a terrific time of year to engage people in personal identity. Make it important. Let employees know that your business cares about their personal life and does not want to offend or exclude anyone. Raising the issue of cultural and religious diversity will begin to eliminate fears and misconceptions. Talking about the issues and discovering specific traditions begins an initial step to diversity education. If a business sets an accepting tone, employees will feel the freedom to express themselves. However, allow people to opt out of personal revelation if it is uncomfortable or sensitive for them. Surveys can vary and be done either electronically, verbally, in written form, or in a group setting. Be careful not to single out people and make sure everyone is included. Sample questions might be: How do your and/or your family celebrate your heritage? Would you be willing to share this information with others in the company so everyone learn about new and different cultural traditions?

3. Decorate and design a party without offending others. Holiday parties can offer a festive flair without offense. Almost all cultures cherish and celebrate light during the dark winter months. String white lights throughout the office and light candles during formal parties. Bring nature inside and use pinecones, frosty firs and blue ice to celebrate the winter months. Ice sculptures offer a unique center piece and spark conversation. Include employees in the design by asking what they would like to see at an office party.

4. Tolerate no jokes or offensive behaviors. Be clear that your company supports all differences and allows no dubious discussions or negative stereotypes. Off-handed comments can hurt and create a breading ground for prejudicial behaviors. Offer a training program or workshop to raise awareness and let employees know what the company expects and tolerates. Workshops can be specific to gender issues, race and ethnicity, religious tolerance, or broadly cultural. Bringing in an expert can set a serious tone while educating employees in a safe and respectful manner. If this is beyond the company's budget, offering diversity resources on the Internet will help guide people to find answers and to understand each other.

5. Celebrate all traditions. Offer an environment for employees to share aspects of their culture. Play ethnic music and offer a variety of foods at holiday gatherings. Through the survey, discover what foods are not tolerated by certain cultures represented and don't offer them. Post holiday greetings in multiple languages. Don't back away from wishing someone a Merry Christmas, but also offer Happy Hanukkah, or Happy New Year. Say "hello" in Arabic for a change (Marhaba) or "peace be with you" in Hindi (Namaste). Be clear the intent is not to speak multiple languages, but rather to recognize and respect cultural heritage. Create a pluralistic environment to include and celebrate everyone.

It is essential to understand both differences and commonalities between people and their beliefs when working together. Interdependence in our society needs to be addressed, but not feared. We live in a global society and businesses should reflect and encourage personal traditions. Communication, productivity and a peaceful atmosphere will abound.

A healthy business culture celebrates and recognizes all employees. A diverse environment produces better results and mirrors our multicultural society. Unity and respect underline successful goals. Accepting and learning about each other's beliefs provides the freedom to celebrate fully. Celebrate unity!

About the Author:

Carrie Brown-Wolf is a national speaker and the author of, "Soul Sunday: A Family's Guide to Exploring Faith and Teaching Tolerance," winner of five national awards. After earning a master's degree at Columbia University's Teachers College, she launched a successful multicultural education company and consults with business and community organizations. Through her seminars, S2 (S-squared), Carrie teaches business leaders to understand cultural differences and to develop creative communication. For more information visit www.carriebrownwolf.com or www.SoulSunday.org.
© Copyright 2008/Exchange Morning Post/Exchange Business Communications Inc.
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