Navigating Workplace Diversity during Thanksgiving Celebrations
Growing up in New England, not only from my father, a US History teacher in his first career, but annually in school, we studied the founding fathers of the United States and the traditions we grew up celebrating as our own. My dad was a “foodie” before the term existed and his mother, my maternal grandmother, a chef, so you can imagine the gourmet smorgasbord that was served every year.
Any spin can be put on the holiday to downplay it and cause division, yet the bottom line is the first recorded accounts of Thanksgiving in the 1600s was to give thanks to God for the blessing of a good harvest that year and the people who helped in the pilgrim’s survival in this new land. It was not that they did not individually give thanks every day on their own, but this was an intentional celebration as a family of faith, and all were invited and appreciated, whether blood relatives or not. To give you some context: The pilgrims landed on Plymouth rock in Plymouth, MA, in 1620, seeking religious freedom, yet not a new God. They wanted to worship in freedom—without persecution and forced adherence to the English man-made laws and the elitists administering them—in this new “Land of the Free.” If any of you know the history, you can easily see how the second part, “and the Brave,” was added and stuck. Many died just getting here, and the subsequent Thanksgivings had security issues, for sure, but the tradition stuck and remained important to most.
In 1789, Washington, the US president at the time, proclaimed the 1st National Day, but it wasn’t until our 16th president, Lincoln, was in office, 1861–1865, that Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday. As the country and its population grew, the day’s noteworthiness (by word of mouth and recorded history) got the president’s attention. He made it official and gave it an exact date to be celebrated each year.
Flash forward to today, and we, despite the dangers of religious freedoms even greater than our founding fathers faced, still live in the greatest country on Earth because of its diversity and proclamation of “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Because of this, many want to live here yet don’t necessarily know or embrace what makes this country special, and even the “justice for all” is in question these days in many parts of our country.
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Employer and Employee Relationships during Thanksgiving in Construction
Regardless of where you work, your company ownership, and their views, Thursday, November 23, is a Federal Holiday, and most people are entitled to take the day off, particularly in Construction Management and Real Estate Development. We see, most often, Thanksgiving Day as one of the standard six major holidays, one of the first official and the majority of employers grant Thanksgiving Friday as a bonus day, so their employees get a four-day weekend to intentionally spend with family and friends and rest up before the last five weeks of the year happen with a strong finish, creating anticipation for the new year.
Employer or employee, what will set you apart from others in the workplace this Thanksgiving and all those to follow that you are present for in the US?
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How do you respond to a “Happy Thanksgiving” comment from another? The best answers are, “Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you too,” or “Thank you, enjoy your holiday.”
Understand that Thanksgiving in America does not negate the traditions where you grew up. It gives an opportunity to embrace a tradition of the country you choose to live in right now, whether planning on staying or going back to yours in the future. Similar days are set aside for observance and celebration in other countries, such as Canada, Brazil, Ghana, and South India, all celebrated differently at different times, and they do not exclude you from participating and celebrating while you are here in the US. This means that you don’t have to say, “I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving as I am not from here,” or “We already had our Thanksgiving this year as I am from _________ (country you’re from),” or “I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.” But you can support your associates who are taking the time to give you the holiday wish and allow them to be joyful without instilling ill feelings for simply wanting to wish you well. Instead, after you thank them and wish them a happy Thanksgiving, you can share with them things like, “In Canada, where I originate from, we have Thanksgiving in October.” This allows you to feel attached to your country of origin without alienating those celebrating in your country of residence, the US.
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Strategies for Maintaining Workplace Inclusivity during Holidays
The other great thing about living in America is that if you don’t have people to share a meal with around a Thanksgiving table, specifically on the 4th Thursday of the month, you can host your own and do the inviting, visit a restaurant or civic club doing a community Thanksgiving, or host a “Friendsgiving” on a day that works for others to join you. You have choices and can lead. You have no reason to be alone unless you choose to be.
All holidays tend to bring different emotions out of everyone based on what their current circumstances are. My office team, representing multiple countries of origin, have asked that, in lieu of doing a Thanksgiving luncheon this year, they serve the community before they head out for their four-day weekend. This will allow them time to get to know one another better and make a difference in our community. At your place of business, you may choose to do one, the other, or both. What really matters is how those participating embrace the organizer and the others on their team (with thankfulness or not, they’ll have time off with pay), as that is what the holiday is all about—isn’t it?
Communication in the workplace is key to the inclusion you and others are seeking. This Thanksgiving, if a negative thought comes into your mind, causing sadness, guilt, resentment, jealousy, or any other emotion that could alienate others with your response, remember that you have another thought coming. If you take three seconds to push the negative thought away and instead answer, “Thank you—you too!” I assure you, everyone will be thankful—including yourself.
America is known as the Melting Pot, and a high schooler in Ohio captured that meaning in a poem. May you be filled with thankfulness this Thanksgiving and join me and my team as we celebrate our thankfulness for you, however you celebrate the holiday itself.
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