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Making a modern-day Christmas story more inclusive

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Joanne Lockwood reminds us to consider those in the workplace for whom Christmas can be a challenging time and how HR can help protect its people's mental health.

22nd Nov 2022
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Did you know that from 20 November through to 24 January there are around 14 different religious holidays celebrated worldwide? And of course, many people in our culturally diverse organisations are non-religious or hold secular views making Christmas completely irrelevant to them. That said, Christmas for those who do celebrate can be a difficult time.

Dealing with finances

The current financial downturn is obviously going to have an impact this year. Food and energy price hikes and rising inflation can add to the feeling of overwhelm. That is before you add things like organising office parties, Secret Santa, and talking about families coming to visit. Certainly this year there are many feeling the pressure to impress with lavish gifts they can’t afford and there are also many for whom Christmas is far from a happy time including those who have experienced a personal loss.

Conferences, parties, office socials, and networking events all seem to have a link to booze in some shape or form

Christmas is often a time of excess in terms of food, alcohol (and gifts) and there is an expectation to fit in with our workplace culture, to conform and to attend these functions and team socials, whether we want to or not. What if you don’t wish to participate in alcohol-fuelled excitement? I have now passed 300 days sober, having made a decision at the beginning of 2022 that I wasn’t going to drink today, which I have decided every single day since. I have realised how much of our culture revolves around drinking in some form.

Conferences, parties, office socials, and networking events all seem to have a link to booze in some shape or form. I now find myself opting out completely or drifting off early before the tipsy monster comes out to play. It is simply no fun watching other people get drunk.

Family pressures at Christmas

I also want to highlight specifically those who may not have a family with whom to celebrate. One group who are dear to my heart are the many people in the LGBTQIA+ or Queer communities who have become estranged and excluded from their families purely because of their sexuality or gender identity.

I look back on a time in my own life when there was a fracture and fault line in my own family unit. I had recently been open about my own gender identity struggles with my family and initially, this was accepted or tolerated provided I fitted in with the expectations of being ‘Dad’.

There came a time however when I couldn’t and wouldn’t conform. I didn’t want to keep up the pretence and wear the mask. It was at this point one of my children decided they would rather exclude me from their lives than embrace me for who I am. 

I am pleased to say, we figured it out as a family and ever since I have been welcomed back and embraced and we now celebrate together

This caused a problem, my wife and other child were then forced to choose, and I lost. I spent two consecutive Christmases alone, once on Christmas Day, the other on Boxing Day whilst the rest of my family celebrated without me. It is fair to say, my wife was extremely torn by this and didn’t know what to do.

If you had known me around this time and asked me what I was doing for Christmas, was I excited and looking forward to it, was it going to be a big family affair? I would have probably welled up into tears and told you the truth about my reality. Fortunately, I was rescued by friends and invited to their home, with other waifs and strays from the queer community and we had a ‘chosen family Christmas’ during those years.

I am pleased to say, we figured it out as a family and ever since I have been welcomed back and embraced and we now celebrate together. I feel very privileged as I am one of the lucky ones. Many do not and are left feeling excluded and shut out all year but most painfully at Christmas time.

A disproportionate number of LGBTQIA+ people are homeless with poor mental health, and an even higher proportion are transgender. According to akt’s (formerly the Albert Kennedy Trust) most recent Impact report, we are seeing a rise in homelessness among black and intersectional young trans people.  

Support is available

I ask you to think about the holiday season which is fast approaching. Think about peoples’ mental health, think about the struggles they may be facing which are exacerbated at this time. Ask if they are ‘ok’. Ask if they are ‘really ok?'

How can you step up and step in as an ally and become part of their ‘chosen family’?

You may be struggling as you read this article, but remember you can reach out, there is someone always willing to listen and lend support.

When we are in our workplace, please challenge yourselves to understand who isn’t included, who doesn’t feel a sense of belonging and who won’t be having a ‘Happy Holiday’. How can you step up and step in as an ally and become part of their ‘chosen family’?

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