Know your religious festivals

While Christmas holidays often steal the limelight, accommodating other religious festivals supports employee engagement and keeps your business running smoothly. This run-down of the main religious festivals will help you plan ahead and be culturally aware at work.
Religious Rights and Religious Rites
As an employer, you’re not legally required to give workers time off for religious festivals. That said, accommodating religious requirements outside of Christmas is great for employee morale.
These rules of thumb will help you navigate what might feel like a tricky area:
❌Don’t provide additional paid leave to cover religious festivities. Use annual leave entitlement, flexi-time arrangements, one-off or discretionary flexi-time or unpaid leave to cover time off.
✔Do ask employees to advise you in good time about any requests for time off or flexible working.
❌Don’t over-provide for a particular group – how you treat those of faith should not disadvantage colleagues with different or no religious beliefs
✔Do keep the requirements of your business in mind when deciding whether to grant any special requests.
❌Don’t expect every individual to have the same needs or requirements.
✔Do understand that, as with Christmas, every individual will have their own way of celebrating.
❌Don’t make people feel singled out for their beliefs.
✔Do make colleagues aware of upcoming religious festivals so they can understand and accommodate any changes in behaviour, dress or diet.
Guru Nanak
Sikh tradition typically marks the birth of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion, in November. The date can vary and celebrations take place in advance of and following the day itself.
The Sikh holy book is read continuously from start to end two days before the celebration and ending early on the morning of the birthday. Some areas of the UK hold processions and celebrations also take place at home or the Sikh place of worship. These may start at 4am and are followed by a celebratory community meal.
Workplace Considerations

  • Longer lunch breaks may help employees attend a reading at their local place of worship.
  • A late start or early finish can help people attend some of the late night or early morning activities.

This Hindu tradition honours Lakshmi, the goddess of Wealth. Also known as the festival of lights it celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. It typically takes place over five days between mid-October to mid-November.
Celebrations often involve lighting lamps, firework displays, cleaning the home, wearing new clothes, preparing festive meals and exchanging gifts.
Workplace Considerations

  • Take the opportunity to host a celebratory meal to build team relationships.
  • Support the triumph of knowledge over ignorance by communicating what Diwali is to the wider team.

One of the most widely celebrated festivals of the Jewish faith, Passover celebrates the liberation of the Jews from slavery by God. It usually takes place in March or April beginning at sunset and lasting for seven or eight days.
People celebrate in different ways: some will attend temple more regularly during this period; others may choose not to work on the first, second, seventh and eighth days of Passover; and some will follow specific dietary observances.
Workplace Considerations

  • Jewish worship starts at sunset the day before Passover so flexible working or allowing people to swap shifts close to this time will be helpful.
  • Ask your team to advise you ahead of time for any holidays, unpaid leave or flexible working requests. If holiday is to be used to cover the absence, ensure people have enough days.

This Islamic tradition marks the revelation of the first verses of the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad. As one of the five pillars of Islam, observing Ramadan is a cornerstone of the Islamic faith. The celebrations last for 29 to 30 days and the dates change each year.
Many Muslims will fast each day from sunrise to sunset abstaining from food, liquid and even smoking. People usually have a meal just before sunrise and one after sunset, often gathered together with family, friends and the community. Ramadan is a time for self-reflection, prayer, giving to charity and reading the Koran.
Workplace Considerations

  • Abstaining from food and drink can make some people feel irritable, tired or weak. Ask anyone who is fasting to let their manager know and possibly their colleagues so they can avoid offering food or drink.
  • In manual jobs, risk assessments should be carried out and preventative measures taken for health and safety.
    Fasting can be most felt in the afternoon – arranging more demanding tasks for the mornings may be preferred.
  • As Muslims are required to pray regularly throughout the day, it’s a good idea to ensure a meeting room is available.

The most important tradition of the Buddhist festival, Vesak celebrates the Buddha’s birthday and for some his death and enlightenment. The data varies but is usually during April to May.
Buddhists may get together at their local temple before dawn to raise the Buddhist flag, to sing hymns and give offerings. Others meditate in private. Those Buddhists who usually eat fish or meat are particularly encouraged to eat a vegetarian diet during Vesak.
Workplace Considerations

  • Flexibility around working hours, like longer lunch breaks, can help individuals attend their temple.
  • Additional meditation or prayer can be accommodated by giving access to a prayer room; under-utilised meeting rooms often work well.

Demonstrating cultural awareness and being sensitive to the religious needs of all your employees makes good business sense. By bringing celebrations into work your people will feel valued and included. Which will secure greater loyalty and increase engagement, all without damaging the productivity of your business.
If you need help with accommodating religious festivals please get in touch.