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Renaming Christmas parties could create more division than inclusion

Civil servants in the UK have been urged to rename Christmas parties 'festive celebrations' so as not to exclude employees of different faiths at end of year gatherings.

The Telegraph reported employees have also been told not to drink alcohol in front of sober colleagues as managers have been discouraged from linking end-of-year parties to Christmas.

Toby Mildon, diversity and inclusion architect at Mildon, said this attempt to be inclusive could end up doing more harm than good.

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Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “My concern is that when employers start telling you that you can't call a Christmas party a Christmas party, it actually creates division. My Muslim friends enjoy attending Christmas parties as long as there are non-alcoholic options available.

"Think about other ways to make your festive celebrations inclusive, like timing, for those who have caring responsibilities; location, for example, women feel unsafe walking home alone; food and drink choices that everyone can enjoy; and activity choices so that those with disabilities can also get involved.”

It is more about the intent of the gathering than the phrasing, Mildon argued.

He added: “My friends and associates who don't celebrate Christmas – for instance, Muslims, atheists or those just not that into it due to the cost of living crisis – do not worry about a Christmas party being called a Christmas party! Christmas is a very meaningful part of British culture, but we can still celebrate it in an inclusive way."

Shakil Butt, founder of HR Hero for Hire, said instead of renaming parties, people should be allowed to opt out if they wanted to.

He told HR magazine: "There can be a danger of virtue signalling and can result in people of the Christian faith feeling like one of their most significant celebration is being downplayed.

"For me the wider issue is whether or not there is pressure to attend for people of other faiths or those whose who do not want to attend for other reasons whether that is family/caring commitments as often these events tend to be late evening, or for those who choose not to drink for health reasons which is often a central point of end-of-year gatherings."

Butt added employers should look to provide alternatives for such parties so everyone gets a chance to attend something.

"If it is left to individuals to attend or not, then is there an alternative for those who cannot attend or don’t wish to attend as failing to have alternatives can lead to further exclusion.

"This occurs because it is at social events that relationships deepen and trust is built so alternative ways to do this are critical for greater engagement and collaboration. Sober socials at a local coffee shop with activities like board games can be a great alternative to having to drink.

"Trying to do the right thing is tricky. As always it is about creating safe channels where everyone feels valued and heard all year round rather than focusing on specific events in the year, so when these types of questions arise you can have an open and inclusive conversation that works for your organisation and teams."