Recently, Forbes posted an article titled “Why Global Companies Need Global Holidays” by Vivek Bhaskaran, founder & CEO of QuestionPro. This reflection brought a new perspective to community building initiatives in international corporate settings, and it ushered in a new take on what Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging departments can do to include international communities. The solution is simple, but still often overlooked in global businesses: acknowledging and educating company employees on international observances and days of holidays.
In conjunction with Bhaskaran and other thinkers, I would like to add that this is an important practice for both global and national companies. Increased globalization due to the technological era and the rise of social media brings high stakes for acknowledging the international community. Now more than ever, we cannot be sure that our colleague or client shares the same beliefs and thus observances as our own. As building business means making connections, making a connection to even 1 more of the 160+ independence days that exist in this world will make your brand more robust and attractive to future clients and employees.
We can bring this conversation to the present. As many families in the United States, both native and international, gear up to reflect on gratitude for the previous year, it is easy to think this is the reality of our co-workers outside the United States as well. In fact, we may not acknowledge their own annual days of celebration in the same time frame, such as November 15th in Japan, a national festival for children ranging ages 3 to 7. Halloween is another example as it shares the same week as many cultures’ All Saints Day/Day of the Dead (November 1-2), an observance for family members or important figures that have passed.
While it is an admirable task to document the traditions and celebrations of every culture around the world, that is not the suggestion of this article. Instead, there are numerous other goals. First, understanding the holiday traditions of clients can inform the team about changes in the market. While some market closures are quite common – such as New Year’s- others such as 4th of July are an opportunity to complete client tasks ahead of time. For example, countries such as Iran, India, and the United Arab Emirates celebrate Ramadan during the ninth month of the islamic calendar. Acknowledging that this a time of deep religious observance would mean that companies working with clients in these countries would be more aggressive either before or after the holiday as a preventative measure. The second goal is to allow team members to maintain their individuality even in the midst of an overall culture. “Bringing your authentic self to work” has populated industry wide conversations on company culture for years. However the degree of “authenticity” often relies on the standard set by leadership and precedent. Being able to acknowledge country-specific observances is significant in a company authentically representing their workforce. Lastly, this practice is a way to gain and maintain global attention. Especially in an increasingly remote world, maintaining distinction and prestige is harder than ever. Presenting company wide cultural understanding is a way to stand out amongst the masses.
Below I will describe three ways you can take a global perspective on international holidays and observances:
- Educate your leadership on important client and internal demographics. Knowing your audience is an important place to start. If you have a large footing in Europe & Middle East and Africa, being aware of different ethnic, cultural, and religious observances will help you connect and expand your business.
- Have your team create a holiday calendar. This could look different depending on the work. For example, if your work is in global operations, it would be important to note key international closures in a team calendar. While optional, this could also be a time to make note of important observances for team members as well. This will ensure that healthy boundaries are maintained without the observer having to go the extra mile. Please remember that this calendar could include a variety of celebrations from Haitian Flag Day (May 18th) to National Ice Cream Day (3rd Sunday in July)! The most important thing is to have an understanding of both culturally shared and culturally distinct holidays.
- Make educational media material on global holidays a priority in your DEI&B committee. This can look similar to remarks made on Indigenous People’s Day or Juneteenth. However, the focus would be on meaningfully highlighting important days of celebration beyond US borders.
Complete a cost benefit analysis on adhering workflow to both national and international closures and observances. You will find that adapting to international markets will save your business money in the long run.
It is important to keep all material purely educational and explanatory. Note that there is no need to compare celebrations or observances. In many cases, there is no equivalent to drastic changes in a country’s history. Rather, sharing these experiences is a way for us to learn something new and appreciate every human experience.
Companies conducting business across borders should have a solid understanding of each market’s statutory requirements and observance dates regarding holidays, as well as the significance and customs surrounding each holiday.
University of Chicago
B.A Global Studies, Romance Languages & Literature