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Avoiding HR Conflicts during the Holidays

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For most people, the weeks between November and January come with a series of celebrations, almost all of them reflecting themes of good will, peace, and connection. These are happy times for those who participate in any of our country’s diverse cultural traditions. But they aren’t always happy times for HR managers. While the rest of us are celebrating, HR pros are often charged with refereeing cultural conflicts and making sure each holiday is fairly represented in the workplace. Here are a few tips that can help your HR team sidestep sensitive issues before they become full blown battles that can derail productivity.

Dealing with Holiday Workplace Conflicts

1. Be aware that these conflicts are coming. The holidays may be about peace and connection, but the workplace should be about fairness, teamwork and productivity, and sometimes these two themes are simply incompatible. Don’t be shocked or caught off guard when joyful holidays become a source of strife.

2. Remember that you can always opt out. Employers always have the right to ignore the holidays altogether (except regarding state or federally mandated days off); just keep in mind that this may undermine morale and hurt your workplace brand. And remember that there’s a difference between discouraging holiday cheer and banning religious expression in the workplace. The first is okay, but the second can get you into legal trouble.

3. Keep an open mind. If an employee complains that his holiday isn’t represented on equal footing with others (in terms of time-off, official acknowledgement, or even office decorations), take the complaint seriously and ask the employee what he would like to change. If at all possible, be accommodating.

4. At the same time, recognize the difference between positive and negative accommodation. Allow employees to advocate for their own holiday, but discourage those who try to downplay the holidays of others. Lobbying for a Christmas tree at the reception desk is okay. Lobbying to have the menorah taken down is not.

5. Consider offering PTO, or paid time off, instead of assigned off-time. PTO plans allow employees to take an established number of days off each year for any reason, and can be used for either illness or holiday-related absences.

6. Exercise judgment. Be accommodating, but not reckless. Don’t make regrettable decisions in a zeal to please any employee who complains. When confused about the legal implications of a complaint, request, question, or demand, take all the time necessary to consult with legal advisors and sort out the matter. Don’t rush to make announcements, implement policies, or alter decorations. Think first.

For more help navigating the thorny workplace conflicts that come with the holiday season, arrange a consultation with the Little Rock staffing and employment experts at CSS. We can answer your questions and help you keep your holiday workplace happy, festive, and fair.

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