Observing cultural holidays

Feb 04, 2024

Shirley Che

Engaging with cultural holidays in the workplace requires genuine interest, education, and inclusive celebration.

Despite my best intentions every year, January 1 has yet to work out for me as the default fresh start to launch a new set of personal and professional goals. The first few weeks of a new year work as a trial period for me. Once I get my bearings though, I use Chinese New Year, sometimes known as Lunar New Year, as my real reset, which means this year my reset date is February 10.

That prompted me to think about what might be some best practices for celebrating cultural holidays at the workplace. I will focus on February in this article, and I will explore Chinese New Year first. 

The more inclusive phrase for this holiday is "Lunar New Year" since it is not actually a Chinese holiday, but also celebrated in many countries and by many ethnicities. It might be one of the most, if not the most, important holidays celebrated among Eastern and Southeastern Asian cultures – a season of family reunions, traditional feasts, fireworks, and (cash) gifts in the form of red envelopes. 

In the region of China I grew up in, companies of all scales host elaborate feasts and celebrations (收爐) leading up to Lunar New Year, not unlike holiday parties here in the U.S. It is also common practice that everybody’s last month’s salary is, at a minimum, doubled by default (雙糧), regardless of the company’s profit. It’s considered an embarrassment if a company fails to distribute that at the end of a lunar year. 

While I don’t expect our firm owner readers to fulfill the doubled salary in honor of the Lunar New Year, there are some ways to go deeper into observing the occasion beyond decorations and a themed lunch. Small next steps could include: personally learning about and educating your team on the symbolism behind the color red in the decorations, offering a floating holiday to those who observe it, checking in with your Asian-owned suppliers and/or vendors, and encouraging your team to shop, dine, and support Asian-owned businesses. I sure wouldn’t mind a red envelope (with cash) from my employer, but any show of genuine interest goes a long way.

Another significant celebration around this time of year is Black History Month. In February, we put focused emphasis on celebrating the achievements of African Americans and recognizing the central role of African Americans in the U.S., while reflecting on the 400 years of Black history in this country. 

It is essential that we recognize these and other special holidays and months of celebration with everyone in our organizations. I cannot emphasize this enough though: We need to be very mindful that the “burden” of organizing celebrations and observations does not fall on the minority employee(s) by default – engaging them for input is essential, but expecting the entire execution to fall on the minority employee(s) is counterproductive.

Some meaningful activities I recommend include seeking out and encouraging team outings to events like film screenings, panel discussions, art exhibitions, etc. themed around the occasion. This doubles up as team building, in addition to the educational benefits. 

I can’t begin to speak about what exactly is the “right way” to celebrate all the cultural holidays, especially ones that I am not a member of. But a genuine interest and effort from the top, and from my peers, to learn about my culture is gold. It’s natural we are hesitant or timid to ask, but do the hard things anyway!

Becoming and staying an employer of choice takes a lot of effort with many considerations, but the return is well worth all of it. Zweig Group supports our clients’ pursuit of becoming the best employer in multiple ways, and we recognize that recruiting and retention are the greatest barriers many firms face in this endeavor. Zweig Group can help firms better understand how to recruit and retain staff through our advisory services, awards programs, and through our ElevateHER® program, which brings together AEC professionals to develop and disseminate actionable plans that aim to solve the industry’s recruitment and retention crisis. To learn more about Zweig Group’s 2024 ElevateHER® Symposium, click here.

Shirley Che is director of field marketing, learning, and ElevateHER® at Zweig Group. Contact her at sche@zweiggroup.com.

ElevateHER® Symposium This dynamic event is designed to inspire, empower, and equip attendees to solve the industry’s recruitment and retention crisis, and will feature powerful panel discussions, keynote presentations from the industry’s leading change agents, and select presentations from past ElevateHER® cohorts. Join us March 6 in Irving, Texas. Click here to learn more!

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