Bah, humbug: Banish Christmas from the office

Countless workplace studies have shown that a diverse staff is likely to outperform a homogenous staff. So with all this talk about diversity, why are we still hanging Christmas wreaths at work?

Not everyone at the office celebrates Christmas, and acting as if everyone has the "holiday spirit" squelches the spirit of workplace diversity.

Diversity in the workplace is not "diverse religious expression." Diversity should express itself in how people approach business problems. Religion is not appropriate at work in the same way that politics is not appropriate; both are divisive.

Corporate events tied to religion make people who don't practice that religion feel like outsiders and therefore inhibit diversity. (And those of you who think Happy Holidays is non-sectarian, please realize that all non-Christians I know hear "Happy Holidays" as "Merry Christmas to those of you who do not celebrate it.")

For me, the Christmas problem starts early– at Yom Kippur, which usually falls in September. This is the most important holiday for Jews, but I have never gotten this holiday off from work. I take vacation days to observe Yom Kippur. And I don't complain about using my vacation days because it’s absurd to think everyone should stop working because the Jews have a holiday.

But as workers, people who are not Christians have to observe Christmas. For them, it's a weird day to be off work. Most stores and restaurants are closed. There's nothing on TV. It's a boring day, a good day to be at work. So when Christmas rolls around, many non-Christians would be happy to work December 25 and have a more useful day off. But they’re forced to take a holiday. Given the nothingness of Christmas to most other religions, it’s absurd how much Christmas cheer non-Christians endure just to fit in at the office.

Vendors send Christmas cards, co-workers say "Happy Holidays," clients expect Christmas gifts. Non-Christians take part in all these moments because the best way to succeed at work is to fit in. The bottom line is that people are forced to be what they are not in order to fit in, and that is never good when you're trying to promote the diverse expression of ideas.

I can already hear the uproar: "Christmas is not about religion!" It's always the Christians who say that. Christmas is about religion because Christians celebrate Christmas.

Non-Christians don't do Christmas. Muslims don't do Christmas. Buddhists don't do Christmas. And no one rants and raves about how religious or nonreligious Christmas is except the Christians. That's because they feel they have authority over the holiday– it's theirs.

Here's an exercise for those of you who are infuriated: Try to see my point of view. Even if you don't agree with me, acknowledge that my point of view represents a minority in the workplace. If you cannot step outside yourself and see things from a minority perspective, you will not be able to manage minorities. And if you want your career to be upwardly mobile, you need to be able to manage diversity.

If you want to be kind and generous and contribute to peace on earth in the New Year, help minorities fit in. Open your mind to experiences different from your own. Look at ways your office makes diversity difficult, and then fix them. You can start by getting rid of those Christmas wreaths.
Penelope Trunk has worked for many businesses and even started a few, and now she's too busy to write her column, so this advice is reprinted from an earlier edition of the Hook.