While the end-of-year holiday season is a celebratory time, it also presents potential pitfalls for workplace inclusion and belonging. Not everyone has the same belief systems, recognizes the same holidays or even celebrates them the same way. And people in recovery or who choose not to drink may feel excluded by alcohol-fueled holiday parties.

Traditions are often wonderful, and we enjoy sharing them with others — but when they are exclusionary or no longer serve your workforce, it’s time to change.

Misty Gaither, Vice President of DEIB+ at Indeed

“Traditions are often wonderful, and we enjoy sharing them with others — but when they are exclusionary or no longer serve your workforce, it’s time to change,” says Misty Gaither, Vice President of Global Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB+) at Indeed. “When planning for end-of-year holidays at work, don’t be afraid to rethink norms or revisit how you’ve always done things in the past.”

Here’s how to embrace the festive spirit at your company while creating an atmosphere where employees of all backgrounds, beliefs and life experiences feel like they belong. 

Celebrate the Season From a Culturally Inclusive Lens

It’s important to consider both the cultural makeup and regional locations of your organization when planning for the year-end holidays. Even if your company isn’t global, it likely consists of people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and they all deserve to feel a sense of inclusion and belonging at work. 

Ricky Brooks, Manager of Global Inclusion Programs at Indeed, oversees 11 global inclusion business resource groups, or IBRGs, with roughly 5,000 members in 13 countries. In the process, he has learned these tips for culturally inclusive celebrations: 

1. Engage employee resource groups

Commonly referred to as employee resource groups (ERGs) or business resource groups (BRGs), members of Indeed IBRGs share common lived experiences or interests, from ethnicity (for example, the Asian Network) to sexual orientation and gender identity (the iPride and Gender Identity Resource Group). Indeed leadership consults IBRG members to ensure the organization celebrates global holidays the right way, with the right voice. At times, IBRGs have even helped to bring new holidays to the forefront. For example, Indeed’s Black Inclusion Group was pivotal in ensuring Juneteenth is now recognized as an official company holiday.

“We need to rely on the voices of those communities because, without them, you only have the corporate voice,” says Brooks. “The culture of a company is the people.”

2. Highlight global holidays

While a significant number of Americans celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, there are 11 global holidays celebrated in December alone. Brooks says one of a company’s most valuable roles during this season is education and awareness. 

Consider creating a guide to these numerous regional or global holidays or hosting events where employees can share their traditions and celebrate the richness of the cultural backgrounds in your organization. 

3. Offer flex time

Many companies recognize holidays specific to different regions. However, Brooks notes that not everyone celebrates the same holidays, in the same place and at the same time. Offering flex time or open paid time off is helpful to enable employees of all cultures to celebrate these moments with their friends and families, no matter where they’re located.

“Just because you don’t live in a particular region, it doesn't mean that you're not a part of that culture or background,” says Brooks. “We recognize that people need this time.” 

Ditch Boozy Holiday Parties for Human Connection

For Rebecca Foster, a Talent Attraction Coordinator at Indeed, getting through the holiday season in the early days of sobriety was more about survival than celebration. 

“When I was in early recovery, the holiday season was very challenging. I was feeling emotions again while trying to learn new coping strategies,” says Foster, who has been in recovery since 2018. “These days, the holidays are a joyous and magical time, but I have to be extra diligent and committed to recovery because I know there will be additional stressors.”

Foster facilitates the global affinity group Recovery at Indeed, a space for employees — both those in recovery and those impacted by another person’s addiction — to find connection and support. Addiction affects whole families, and the holidays can be an especially lonely time for those who have lost or had to distance themselves from loved ones, she says. For the 28.6 million adults who struggle with alcohol use disorder, this time of year can be a minefield of triggers, including in the workplace. 

“Holidays, and holiday events, are often strongly associated with excessive intoxication in the memories of those in recovery,” says one Recovery at Indeed member in an anonymous poll. “Work can be an active, healthy refuge from these concerns or a traumatic trigger, depending on whether, and to what extent, work parties with alcohol (or drugs) are part of the corporate culture.”

In the 2023 Indeed-produced ad "Happy Hour," a worker recognizes and supports his colleague’s sobriety while co-workers enjoy a typical office happy hour nearby.

To ditch the tired trope of the boozy company holiday party — and help break the stigma of sobriety at work — offer options. Ensure that holiday party attendance is optional, and don’t penalize those who choose not to attend. This can benefit those of differing faiths and traditions as well as those who don’t drink alcohol. Plan events that don’t serve or center on alcohol, and ensure that parties include booze-free options, as well.

“They say the opposite of addiction is connection,” says Foster. “Any activity where we can build connection and create a space where people can build stronger relationships is a great alternative.”

Foster recommends hosting holiday food tastings, team-building activities or crafting opportunities. In addition, Brooks encourages employers to focus on giving initiatives, such as food drives, volunteering at soup kitchens or cleaning up public parks.

“Bringing joy to someone doesn’t always come in the form of a tangible gift. Sometimes it’s just giving your time and support,” says Brooks. “Taking care of people and giving back to the community is always a good thing because everyone needs more joy in their life.”

Taking care of people and giving back to the community is always a good thing because everyone needs more joy in their life.

Ricky Brooks, Manager, Global Inclusion Programs at Indeed

Listen to the Voices of Your Employees 

Ultimately, Gaither says the best strategy for planning more inclusive holiday celebrations in the workplace is to talk to your employees. “Sometimes, as the leader of DEIB+ I may not know the best way to ensure everyone feels included. When in doubt, I simply ask people what they would like to see,” she says. 

She encourages leaders to create space in one-on-one meetings and team settings for people to share about their backgrounds and what they value during end-of-year celebrations. She also suggests working closely with BRGs “to ensure members of traditionally marginalized communities have the opportunity to offer input into how your company recognizes and celebrates holidays.”

For Brooks, the end-of-year holiday season represents a unique moment for employers to step up inclusion and belonging efforts by really listening to their people.

“Companies have the opportunity, not just to make their environments more inclusive, but to make employees feel respected and valued — to make them feel that, regardless of their beliefs or backgrounds, their voices are heard, and they can celebrate and share their traditions,” he says. “Because that's what makes us culturally diverse, and that's what makes us achieve a sense of belonging.”