by Richard T. Alpert

President, Diversity Resources, Inc.

For a complete list of cultural events affecting the workplace, enjoy a free trial of our online diversity calendar

Religion and the workplace are becoming increasingly intertwined. More workers expect their religious beliefs and practices be accommodated in the workplace, with days off to celebrate holidays and time during the workday to practice religious beliefs. Globally, these accommodations have long been common.  Most countries have populations with a dominant religion with practices reflected in many aspects of the country’s life, including the workplace, public holidays, and societal values. Our cultural calendar lists all such events.

Christian Holidays

Although subtle or even taken for granted, Christianity is the main religious influence on U.S. business. Christianity represents about 33% of religious practitioners worldwide, but in the United States estimates range between 76 to 82 percent.

The two main Christian holidays are

•     Easter, variable, and in 2011 is on April 24

•     Christmas, a fixed holiday, always occurring on December 25.

These holidays result in the almost complete closings of business in the United States, and predominantly Christian countries or regions. In non-U.S. regions where Christianity is the dominant religion – such as Western Europe – the days after Easter and Christmas are also celebrated with most businesses closed.

Jewish Holidays

For observant Jews (1.2% to 2.2% of U.S. population), several cultural calendar holidays require absence from work. These include:

•     first two days of Passover (April 19-20)

•     Rosh Hashanah (September 29-30)

•     Yom Kippur (October 8)

•     first two days of Sukkoth (October 13-14)

Observant Jews may request time off on other days associated with these holidays or others. In Israel, business is usually disrupted

•     for 7-8 days during Passover

•     during Hanukah(December 21-28)

Islamic Holidays and Scheduling Needs

Some 22 percent of the world’s population is Muslim. From the Middle East to countries such as Indonesia – which has the world’s largest Muslim population – there are profound effects on how and when business is done.  This is also increasingly true in Europe, with expanding Islamic immigrant populations. While the Muslim population in the United States is relatively small, some areas – such as Michigan – have larger Islamic populations.

According to our online multicultural calendar, key Muslim holy days include:

•     Ramadan, floating event, which in 2011 begins August 1

•     Eid ad-Fitr, floating, in 2011 begins August 30

Regular Islamic practices that must be accommodated include time and space for daily prayers – especially Friday noon – and washing before eating and prayer.

Buddhist Holidays

Asian holidays often fall on weekends and thus have less impact on the domestic workplace. However, the global impact is much more noticeable.  In China, Vietnam, South Korea, Cambodia, and Thailand, New Year celebrations see many businesses and government offices closing for a few weeks. Buddhist holidays also affect countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.

According to our online culture calendar 2011, these include

•     Buddha’s Birth, April 8

•     Bodhi Day (Buddha’s Enlightenment), December 8.

Many countries also have additional secular holidays.

Hindi Holidays

Hinduism, the dominant religion in India, has many holidays, reflecting its extremely diverse culture. Some of the most important are

•     Maha Shivaratri (Shiva’s Night)  March 2

•     Holi, March 19 to 20

•     Bikarami Samvat (Lunar New Year) April 4

•     Ramanavami (Birthday of Rama) April 12

•     Vaisakhi (New Year), Hindu April 14

•     Janmashtami (Birth of Lord Krishna) August 21

•     Dassehra (Durga Puja) October 6

•     Diwali October 26.

Diversity – Opportunity and Challenge

Diversity presents many opportunities, from the workplace to the market. But it also presents challenges. Be sure to use an online cultural diversity calendar, to ensure your teams can work together effectively and productively.