4 Ways Employers Can Embrace A Greater Understanding Of Religious Festivals And Holy Days By Hayley McDonnell

Diversity has never been so prevalent in our news, and we don’t need to look so far to be able to acknowledge it within ourselves.  The workforce is always changing but ironically increasing diversity is here to stay and therefore embraced and understood.  The beliefs and values we all have underpinned our own levels of tolerance and understanding of others and this include religious belief among many.

The ONS tells us that approximately 56,000,000 people in the UK follow a religious doctrine and these adherents have both beliefs and practice that are acknowledged in their respective festivals.  In Great Britain the holidays (derived from holy-days) are easily recognised by the festivals of Easter and Christmas, we have time off work, a break in routine and an overt opportunity to spend time with family, of course, both these festivals are based in Christian ideology which is the mainstay of British culture. What if you follow another religion or your employees or clients does? Can we use this as an opportunity to embrace a greater understanding of the world around us and the people we know and don’t yet know? 

Hayley McDonnell of Hayley McDonnell PD/SMSC Consultant for Headteachers and leaders encourages the inclusion and development of SMSC in education families and corporate life. Here are four suggestions by Hayley, questions or thinking points to adapt and make them more accessible to you. 


What food is eaten at this festival? Have a bring and share the day and find out about the traditions associated with the food?  How is the food prepared, why is it eaten, how is it eaten? 

Sharing food shows care and interest in those you are sharing with.   You are taking precious time to stop talk and find out more about the people themselves.  Don’t forget you will also be getting lunch too.  Encourage everyone to decorate the table, bring in special plates and bowls as part of the occasion. Invite others too. The word festival originates from the word ‘feast’ too. 


Should we embrace festivals from religions, traditions, and cultures other than our own?  Should you only be allowed to take part in a festival if you share the values it represents? Talk about it during the bring and share lunch. 

Talking with someone with a different belief, cultural tradition or faith to you is the perfect opportunity to empower yourself with knowledge. In a less intimidating situation, you are more likely to ask those ‘awkward’ questions and get the answers you want.  This new-found knowledge and understanding will equip you for when you are speaking to a client, customer or colleague who has similar views.  Remember though that there is still diversity and differences of opinion within one tradition and so there is always something to learn.  The trick is to keep an open mind and keep talking. 


What beliefs and values are most important to you?  How do you show them? How can you show them to your colleagues and customers?  What beliefs and values are at the heart of religious festivals of those who socialise with at work or at home?  How important is to you that you are working with and serving others who share the same ethos? Ask the questions about yourself and see if you reveal it to others.  During the bring and share lunch and offer your thoughts too. 

Taking the time to work out what is important can inspire you to create a company ethos or culture which aligns with your values and help you focus on those you want to work with and besides. Festivals and holy days give followers the chance to show what is important to them and re-affirm their beliefs.  The special occasion itself will be just one opportunity for their values to acknowledged; it should be there all the time and realised in their behaviour.


In the UK our Sunday trading laws are a reminder of days gone by where shops were shut on a Sunday and no trading was allowed.  This was to reflect the Christian values of resting on a Sunday. There are still remnants of this tradition. The other two Abrahamic faiths of Islam and Judaism have set times that are distinct from the other days and followers will abide by their religious laws strictly. The little exception is made not to do so. Understanding at most and compassion at least to find ways to accommodate these expectations for adherents of these faiths will surely enhance employee and employer relations and customers too. 

So why do this?  “No man is an island”, said John Donne Our connections to others are increasing and not decreasing.  The internet has meant we can reach and connect with each other with relative ease and so opportunities to show tolerance and respect for others in our diverse ‘global village’ will develop a greater understanding for all. 

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