How to Greet the Seasons at Work 1-2-3
Seasons greetings. Ramadaan Kareem. Happy holidays. Joyous Kwanzaa. Happy Chanukah. Happy Diwali. Merry Christmas. Shanah Tovah. Lunar New Year happiness.
The ways in which we address one another as we mark the milestones of our seasons in the workplace are so important to fostering a culture of belonging.
For leaders, a misstep around holiday time--or potentially even worse, omitting the acknowledgment of any particular holiday held dear by even a handful of team members--can take an executive from hero to zero faster than one can say "Eid Mubarak."
But does it REALLY matter? The drumbeat of many busy executives is "stay focused on business." I counter: your people are always your business. And you might be surprised by the level of impact holiday communications create, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
In the accurate words of Eric Peterson, as quoted by SHRM, "One way to not be inclusive is to make somebody feel invisible, to make them feel as though the organization just has no idea who they are, what is pleasing to them and what is offensive."
Right now, amid pandemic isolation and sadness, the human touch we can offer around the holidays is more vital than ever.
In the nearly two decades I spent helping executives craft high-impact communications strategies, we learned many things about holiday messages. Here are three key takeaways:
Do send holiday greetings, no matter how busy you may be
Don't screw this up...no really, do your homework
Make zero assumptions
1. Do send holiday greetings, no matter how busy you may be
Yes, there are calendar-year goals to worry about. Yes, we are in the middle of a pandemic. Yes, business is being challenged in ways we couldn't have fathomed a year ago.
And yes, you still need to make holiday messaging a priority.
Of all the types of communications the highly-talented executives I had the privilege to coach created, holiday greetings got some of the best response rates and most mentions on employee-engagement surveys. People wrote things back to executives like (I'm paraphrasing for privacy) "I'm Jewish, and I never worked someplace where my holidays were acknowledged. Thanks for noticing." "I know I happen to be one of the few Hindu team members in this office, and I totally appreciate your having taken the time to acknowledge my holiday." In a 2020-level inclusive world, you might assume that everyone feels valued and acknowledged, particularly around cultural celebrations. And you'd be wrong. Many executives message about only the milestones they celebrate themselves. That's plain wrong. It demonstrates a lack of humanity, and it's also really poor business practice.
Staff notice and appreciate when both important celebrations and somber milestones are acknowledged by leadership. And most of all? Staff notice when you don't bother to wish them well; in fact, they may never forget your lack of genuine connection with them.
2. Don't screw this up...no really, do your homework
I'll admit I have some personal skin in this game. Having been in an interfaith marriage for even longer than I've worked in internal communications, if I had a nickel for every time someone said something bizarre and inaccurate like "Enjoy lighting your menorah for Rosh Hashanah," I'd be typing this blog from my private yacht.
Seek out your HR team, your diversity and inclusion leaders, or gently ask someone you trust who has lived experience (be sure to do so in a way that doesn't put the person on the spot) to read your planned holiday message, and be sure there are no glaring errors.
Mary Christmas doesn't cut it.
Even a simple misspelling of an important holiday for any culture can be highly offensive. Likewise, imagery is so important. You want staff to know that all winter holidays matter to you? Don't send out a multi-holiday message featuring a Christmas tree.
It's important to message, but it's even more important to message correctly. Research!
3. Make zero assumptions
I encouraged executives to offer "Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate." Who doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, you ask? Some of your valued team members, that's who. "We know Mother's Day may represent a challenging period for some. We send everyone peace this weekend." That's right too. For someone who had a difficult parental relationship, or who has sadly lost a parent or child, the moments many of us may take for granted as joyous can be fraught with mixed feelings.
Craft any executive holiday message with great care. Don't make any assumptions.
You don't need to be stiff either. Be genuine, and be real. But read your message through the lens of a variety of team members' perspectives, and you'll do a better job of communicating your good intent.
A vital mid-pandemic note: remember, people may have loved ones in the hospital, may not be able to see loved ones, or may have just lost loved ones. Special 2020 sensitivity is required. Celebrate and acknowledge holidays, but default toward reverence for loss.
I am a believer in the power of light, peace, and love. I wish you happy holidays. Happy Chanukah! Merry Christmas! Joyous Kwanzaa! May the gift of light and peace, common to each of these warm celebrations, be with you all year through. And, may light lead us from dark pandemic times to much brighter days ahead.
April Dawn Shinske is an integrated marketing communications professional with nearly two decades of experience crafting messages that transform team members into brand ambassadors. Connect at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright August 2020, April Dawn Shinske. All rights reserved. Please cite authorship and link back to aprildawnshinske.com when sharing content. Thank you.