Should you get the day off on Columbus Day or Juneteenth? Many argue that the workplace holiday calendar is due for a shakeup. A diversity and inclusion expert says it’s important to publicly acknowledge holidays, even if you don’t take them off.
In this contentious political year, new debates have emerged about federal holidays. For many employers, including associations, these debates are leading to questions about the workplace holiday schedule.
This is particularly true of Columbus Day, the second Monday in October. Historical reassessments of Christopher Columbus have made the federal holiday so controversial that critics—and some states—have reinvented that Monday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which honors Native Americans. Other communities have replaced Columbus Day with Italian Heritage Day.
Even if no one in your company is any of those things, just acknowledging it really is going to show the company’s true spirit of being an inclusive organization.
Jackie Glenn, an expert on diversity, inclusion, and human resources, says that for organizations struggling with what to do about Columbus Day, the best solution may be to find a middle ground.
“I would not be counseling, as a diversity strategy, any company to give that off,” Glenn said. “If they want to leave it on their calendar, let people use it as a floating holiday because it’s near and dear to them.”
But however associations handle this holiday and others, she says it’s important to honor these commemorations and celebrations in some way organizationally.
Reflecting on Juneteenth
Another day that has become a focal point is Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865. This year, in response to racial justice protests after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, many workplaces closed or cut back hours to honor Juneteenth. Some members of Congress of both parties have said they support making it a federal holiday.
“I really felt like a lot of African-Americans were going to take it off [this year] whether or not we got it,” said Glenn, a former diversity and inclusion vice president at Dell Technologies who grew up in Jamaica. “People are feeling so dedicated to that cause, for all that has happened to African-Americans” and because the day came so soon in the wake of Floyd’s death.
On a practical level, Glenn said, formally putting Juneteenth on the office holiday schedule could create logistical problems because of its proximity to the Fourth of July. Here again, she notes that employers could make it a floating holiday.
Honor Every Holiday
Because different holidays are important to different people, honoring as many as possible presents a dual challenge: logistics and inclusion. For HR departments, “things could get tricky,” Glenn said.
She counsels a broad approach. “Let’s celebrate all of the diversity, all the days, especially if you are international,” she said. “You know, things like Diwali, things like the Indian holidays, things like Chinese New Year.”
It’s important to recognize each of these holidays in an organization-wide message. “Even if no one in your company is any of those things, just acknowledging it really is going to show the company’s true spirit of being an inclusive organization,” Glenn said.