Holiday Decorations Still Have a Place at Work, According to a Recent IFMA Survey

Dec. 5, 2006
Organizations find creative ways to keep the holiday peace

From Christmas trees to Menorahs to holly, lights, and poinsettias, workplaces are still recognizing the holiday season despite issues relating to religion and diversity, according to survey results released on Nov. 29, 2006, by the Houston-based Intl. Facility Management Association.

Ninety-three (93) percent of organizations decorate for a variety of holidays, according to the new study, with 85 percent of the 422 facility management professionals who responded to the survey saying their organization plans to decorate for Christmas this year.

The 7 percent of respondents who said their organizations were not decorating cited respecting employees’ personal beliefs as their No. 1 reason for not doing so. Many of the respondents whose organizations do decorate have dealt with these sensitivities in the past. However, one facility manager reported that when their organization did away with holiday decorations, it caused more of a stir.

To keep the holiday peace, organizations give equal opportunities for displays of all religious beliefs, keep it non-denominational (even leaving out the Christmas tree), avoid traditional Christmas colors in their decorations, and decorate for the season (and not a specific holiday).

One facility manager reported that angels on a Christmas tree have been changed to lighted wreaths after hearing employees’ objections. Another facility manager for an organization with staff from 27 different countries now decorates their holiday tree with banners stating holiday greetings in 20 different languages. Organizations have also eliminated Christmas music over Muzak due to possible religious content or tone.

Many public-sector employees in the United States are limited to secular displays due to the Constitutional issue of separation of church and state.

Of the respondent organizations, 24 percent decorate for Hanukkah. One organization decorates its offices for 2 weeks with blue and white flowers and then the next 2 weeks with Christmas flowers. Other organizations wishing to recognize the festival of Hanukkah have encountered some difficulty in lighting the Menorah on the right day, at the right time, and in the right order. Short circuits and power failures in lighting the Hanukkah candles have also created problems for facility managers.

Thirteen (13) percent also decorate for Kwanzaa with the inclusion of Kwanzaa candles in their holiday decorations. Employees have also been allowed to dress for Kwanzaa.

While some organizations don’t necessarily get into the holiday spirit, they do allow employees to decorate their workspaces, with 94 percent not having a problem with individual expression during the holiday season.

When decorating though, employees frequently fail to recognize that stringing lights around their cubicles increases energy usage and creates trip and fire hazards. Candles have been outlawed by many organizations and municipalities due to their inherent flammability. Organizations have also begun limiting electrical decorations to those that are battery operated. One problem often encountered is that employees neglect to turn off the electrical products at the end of the day.

Many organizations are developing policy manuals and instructions to guide their employees in decorating their workstations. These include rules on putting things up on office doors and walls, climbing on furniture to hang things, blocking sight lines to exit signs, the use of artificial snow, hanging of decorations from sprinkler heads, and noise. Employees should also be warned that some companies may interpret having time to decorate as not having enough work to do.

Other holiday issues result from trees and live plants. Many employees have been known to complain of pine allergies, but some employees also suffer from nickel allergies, making them allergic to artificial trees as well. The fire marshal has also added to the trend of switching to artificial trees in workplaces. Local fire codes in some locations require cut Christmas trees to be treated with fire retardant and that a certificate stating so must be attached at all times. Employees often remove the tag because it interferes with the décor, leading to the tree’s removal due to lack of certification.

Memorable quotes from survey respondents include:

  • "We tried a Native American theme one year, but people missed the elves."
  • "Because employees know we’ll give them the poinsettias, many will tag or try to take 'their' plant prior to the time. Employees become very upset if another employee takes their plant."
  • "Some employees have developed 'holiday rage' due to extended exposure to noisemakers like the ever-popular singing bass."
  • "We try to include some non-Christian activities, such as singers for Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. We once had a Christian magician that grossed people out by pulling a bloody rabbit out of a hat. I think it was supposed to have religious connotations. He has been unofficially banned."
  • "The truth is, we’re as likely to deal with hunting memorabilia in the fall as we are with holiday items."
  • "We try to get people to limit food in the offices because of rodents and bugs, but people don’t always comply."
  • "Someone in my office completely wrapped their cubicle. Being furniture coordinator, I was surprised when I happened upon the totally foil-wrapped workstation - every panel of the 8 x 8 station was wrapped in foil!"
  • "A mis-hung, 60-inch diameter wreath fell onto a non-Christian couple 2 days after it was hung 12 feet above a seating area, enwreathing them (but not invoking any holiday spirit)."

This information was reprinted with permission from the Intl. Facility Management Association (IFMA). IFMA is the largest and most widely recognized professional association for facility management, supporting more than 18,000 members. For more information about the organization, visit ( To view the complete survey results, visit (

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