Office St. Patrick’s Day How-To
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated throughout the world on March 17th to pay homage to the patron saint of Ireland, who is famous for his missionary work to help spread Christianity through Ireland. Traditionally the Irish holiday consisted of going to church, and pubs were closed for the day.
In 1737, Boston held its first St. Patrick’s Day parade and the festive take on the holiday was then exported to Ireland in the 20th Century. The holiday is often celebrated more intensely by the Irish diaspora because it is seen as an Irish pride day and an excuse to go out drinking. However in countries like the U.S. everyone is welcome to celebrate. For native Irish, there is a sense that the way St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by most of the world is not part of their tradition. First generation Irish immigrants have varying opinions on how they feel about the holiday, which is one reason it is important for you to make sure your office is celebrating the holiday respectfully.
If your office is having a party, traditional Irish food is an excellent way to appreciate Irish culture. Not to say that you should avoid your own country’s way of celebrating. If you want to make minty green milkshakes with your favorite Girl Scout Cookies, so be it! Irish music could include traditional Irish music, but also modern music like U2. With decorations, make sure the focus is on the cultural side of the holiday, such as leprechauns, the color green, and clovers. These things are not related to the traditional Irish holiday, but focusing on the relatable side of the holiday, rather than the religious side, ensured that everyone will feel included.
Costumes can be challenging for HR so it is always good to set guidelines for the holiday to avoid problems the on that day. Dressing as a Ghetto African American with a green afro wig is one example that is not workplace appropriate (and resulted in an employee lawsuit). Reminding employees to wear green is a fun and safe route, however if employees want to wear costumes, you don’t want to come off as a holiday scrooge.
Remember getting pinched in school for not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day? Some employees still might think that kind of behavior is funny. While some employees will see this as a harmless tradition, others could take it as sexual harassment, especially if it is from an employee who already gives off creeper vibes. Depending on your employees, it could be good to be proactive by informing them that pinching could be seen as sexual harassment, even if the intent is just to play along with the tradition.
If you experience a disgruntled Irish employee because they feel that the holiday is making a mockery of their culture, inform them that St. Patrick’s Day in countries outside Ireland began as a celebration of Irish pride at a time when Irish faced societal discrimination. In countries like the U.S., the month of March often showcases Irish culture such as music, dance, and singing. Everyone has a different motivation for celebrating the holiday. However the fact that many people who are not Irish now join in on the festivities demonstrates that Irish have are accepted in the countries to which they immigrated. You can decrease your chance of offending or annoying someone who is Irish by learning more about the Irish tradition of the holiday, and avoiding making jokes that play into the old stereotype of Irish being drunk all the time.
Alchohol is by far the biggest challenge for HR on St. Patrick’s Day. If your company allows employees drink in the office, make sure to limit the number of drinks people may have. Alternatively, you could opt not to serve alcohol at all. Drinking can be a way for employees to bond, but it can also make employees who don’t drink feel excluded. Aside from the obvious danger risks that can be due to alcohol-impaired judgment, employees are more likely to make inappropriate comments or passes. Make sure employees have a safe ride home, especially if they are drinking in the office. If employees go to a bar after work, they should remember that they are still seen as an extension of the company, sometimes legally as well. As a result of heavy drinking, the day after St. Patrick’s Day is sometimes a day employees come late to work, or take off. To discourage this, companies can give employees incentives such as late arrival or free lunch.
Management should avoid being too strict when it comes to celebrations in the office. After all, holidays only happen once in a while. Happy employees are more engaged employees and, in the big picture, a few hours of lost work are probably not going to have a significant impact on the company.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members.