Etiquette at Work

Ways to be inclusive during holidays

As I write this, Hurricane Sandy has wrought devastation across the East Coast. I have heard mind-numbing stories of loss and tragedy and heroism. At such a time it seems odd to write about the holidays, but this person’s letter reminds me that at their core, the holidays are about people coming together.

Q. The holidays are a fun time for most everyone and the social atmosphere at most offices lends itself to holiday events: cookie exchanges, potluck lunches, Secret Santas, etc. How can we enjoy ourselves and still be respectful of those who choose not to celebrate, can’t participate because of financial restraints, or may not be in the mood to join the festivities? I’ve always wanted to have a multicultural celebration so everyone can enjoy, and we can learn from each other.

M. M., Hillsboro, Ore.

A. You’re right that some people choose not to celebrate while others would celebrate but don’t feel they can because of financial or other reasons. For the former, the best thing you can do is respect their desire not to take part. Let them know they are always welcome, but also be respectful of their wishes by not pestering them.


Consider switching the “Secret Santa” for a “Yankee Swap,” a more inclusive-sounding alternative whose rules often make it more fun, too. Alternatively, speak to planners and suggest an office celebration that is tradition neutral or encourages participants to share elements of their holiday traditions.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

There are also people who would want to celebrate but can’t because of finances. If your office is organizing holiday donations, whoever is in charge should make sure that no one is pressured to contribute and all donations are anonymous. Set price limits for gift swaps, and keep them low. Make sure there are ways for employees to participate that don’t involve money.

I like your thoughts about the opportunity the holidays offer to learn about the ways different cultures celebrate. At home, you can take the initiative by inviting a friend or colleague from another culture to your celebration. And let them know that you’re interested in appreciating theirs, as well.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to