Rabbits taught me a lot this week. I was out for one of my favorite hikes and so many adorable bunnies hopped across my path that I half expected to stumble across a pastel pink basket full of candy. It was Easter Sunday and after a year of quarantine, the world seemed abuzz with candy-worshipping holiday enthusiasts. Between the gorgeous vista, blooming Black-Eyed Susans, and furry friends, I was in some pretty serious Spring bliss.
Like many people, I burned out on one too many Zoom calls this past year, and the levity that’s coming with the change of season and the chance of vaccinated enthusiasm feels great. The truth is, even though my family painted eggs and ate chocolate on Easter when I was a kid, we weren’t religious, and the whole event was a big excuse to get together and make delicious food. Still, during my younger years, the day off from school was massively welcome, and I wouldn’t exactly turn down a day in nature now.
Still, as we move away from ethno-centrist ideas about religions and holidays and worship, should companies include Easter for paid time off? Depending on how you look at it, Easter is a highly secular holiday that perhaps should be in a “floating days off” category--some companies suggest 6 paid holidays throughout the year that can be taken at the employees’ discretion. These days are in addition to “regular” time off and exist specifically to support individual needs and preferences. That way there’s leeway to observe holy-days for any number of different religious, ethnic, and cultural affiliations.
But what do the atheist and agnostics do? Surely we don’t need to ask that employees invent a Flying Spaghetti Monster to excuse their desire for PTO? Or what about people with large extended families who are expected to attend gatherings for more than one religion? If we ask that people only observe one religion that’s an unintended backslide to a time when intermarrying wasn’t accepted. And, in the case of Easter specifically, what’s the best approach to days off for a holiday that’s considered common in the West but may or may not apply to employees across the globe?
With at least 5 major religions and another 450 million people observing less common religions, how are companies supposed to have inclusive policies? And as if the question weren’t complex enough, gender enters the equation as well--in cases where a certain member of the family spends time feeding everyone or corralling little kids or grandparents for the festivities, the bulk of the labor often sits with women.
Being inclusive of myriad religions also means being receptive to the complex and overlapping cultures our employees live with. And, like most things DEI&B (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging), there’s no single way to “do” company policy. But here is a guiding framework --
When in doubt, be flexible, offer options, ask for feedback, and be prepared to dialogue to discover mutually agreeable accommodations. One of the misconceptions about accommodating employees’ preferences, desires, and life obligations is that it’s playing into “their” agenda. Us (the company) versus them (the employees) is a dangerous zero-sum mentality that pits our institution against the very humans who comprise it. This is essentially cannibalism.
If pressed to take action, give your team a day off. There’s no evidence that squeezing people for more work means even remotely higher quality results. And there’s ample evidence that rest, fun, joy, relaxation, and probably chocolate helps teams be better humans and create better work. That may be intuitive, but it’s shown in research, too.
But what happens when someone wants to come to work but also wants to wear a pair of bunny ears and listen to Easter music? Are we supposed to squash their spirits so as to not make non-Easter people uncomfortable?
Again, there’s no one correct way to “be” at work, but the objective is to help as many people feel as human and welcome as possible. Instead of censoring bunny ears, ask what the non-ear-wearer craves to feel a sense of belonging. Yes, if someone is going around the office proclaiming the teachings of Jesus Christ, it’s time for a chat about boundaries. But if there’s offense taken because of fuzzy plastic ears, this is a change to go deep and discover what the offended employee really wants. In that case, it may be less about the spirited accouterment and more about a grievance that’s been festering under the surface. Pun intended--with bunny ears as a problem, listening may be the best bet.
Speaking of bunny ears, after my Easter Sunday hike, I stopped to get a coffee and a young woman with her friends behind me was wearing a pair of pastel yellow, fuzzy bunny ears with a gold sequin accent. I couldn’t make out their conversation so I have no idea if they were talking about Jesus’ rebirth, hunting for hand-painted eggs, their coffee order, or all three. But they were beaming, clearly relaxed and happy. As Barbara Ehrenreich says in Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, humans invented holy days to convene and bask in shared experience. Indeed, that’s Ehrenreich’s definition of religion, and it’s also one definition of culture. And in the case of company culture, we need not celebrate the same holidays to benefit from employment at a company that values feeling good. After all, deciding about days off is surface-level inclusion. Deep inclusion... and graduating into a sense of belonging... comes from feeling like a whole human while at work.
So, when in doubt, Marie Kondo your company policies, and move toward joy. If this feels silly, good. Because there is no such thing as one correct policy on paper. But there are actual humans who are thankful, nourished, and revitalized when their company puts their humanity first. And do you know what thankful, nourished, and revitalized humans become at work? Extraordinary.