Fiona Passantino, late March 2023
Ramadan kareem! If you work in a diverse, international organization, chances are a portion of your workforce will be practicing Muslims; for an entire month starting March 22-23 (depending on the moon), they will refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sundown. A few small actions state loud-and-clear that your culture is one of curiosity, respect and celebration of diversity. Five small and easy ways to make Ramadan great for everyone.
If you work in a large, international organization with a diverse population, chances are a portion of your workforce will be practicing Muslims. This will mean that for an entire month starting March 22-23 (depending on the moon), part of your community will refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sundown[i].
Oh my God, you’re not eating??
There is an enormous amount of food pushed at employees in the average work space. From goodbye coffee-and-cake events for leavers, cupcakes for birthdays, Monday Muffins for early birds, chocolates in a bowl in the lobby, bagels and doughnuts in the pantries and lunch offerings in the café or canteen… food is an inescapable part of office life.
And, predictably, the Muslim population will be subjected to the same during these social get-togethers. Since non-attendance isn’t an option, they will be there, wishing their colleagues well, politely declining the cinnamon buns, often having to explain themselves over and over again.
Generally, the reaction from the non-Muslim is one of shock followed by pity. To which the Muslim colleague may laugh, shake her head and assure the host that they needn’t worry, that they are just fine, will not faint, and are actually enjoying this very special time.
Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for practicing Muslims. About 93% of Muslims fast during Ramadan[ii]. That adds up to about 1.6 billion people worldwide[iii].
It’s a time to detach from earthly pleasures, physically and spiritually purify, donate to charities, pray and celebrate with family and friends. It’s like a month of Christmas every day mixed with Lent on steroids; intense, cleansing, and full of warmth and food once the sun has gone down.
It’s also hard; in Northern Europe those long days mean 19-hour fasts without caffeine or nicotine. Some families wake up at 4am to have a big, very early breakfast to give them the energy they need for the rest of the day. It’s called suhoor. To the typical outsider, this feels like a kind of neat sleepover midnight secret-snack event.
Five easy ways to make Ramadan cool for everyone
1. Send out a greeting.
Typically, the start of the month is welcomed with the greeting of “Ramadan kareem!”. If you have control over your team socials, send out a (digital) card to welcome in the start of the holy month for those who recognize it. This message goes out on the first day, (check your calendars since this is different every year).
2. Educate your workforce
What’s Ramadan? Let people at work know what it is, why people are doing it, and how long it lasts, and to accept that not everyone will be wolfing down the slices of pepperoni on Pizza Fridays. Explain why we put away the food temporarily (see point 3), what “to go” options might be available (see point 4) and why it matters.
3. Remove “gratuitous” food in the office
In the spirit of our generosity of spirit, for one month we can certainly do without the excessive amounts of food we have lying around every surface of our offices. As a courtesy, in solidarity, encourage your teams to put their chips and chocolates in a drawer and the baskets of candy bars in a closet just for a little while. And certainly, don’t force food on people who don’t want it. Sort of like a giant Instagram challenge; we’re all the better for it.
4. Easy “to go” bags for events
For events that involves food, there’s a great way to have your cake and eat it too (literally). Offer small “to go” bags with a little note, perhaps, that might say something like “Take Me Home, Eat Me after Sunset!”. This way, your faster can politely take a pre-packaged baggie and enjoy it with their families when the time is right. That cinnamon bun will taste great for 4am suhoor .
5. Celebrate the end of Ramadan with snacks
The end of Ramadan is celebrated by a three-day holiday called Eid Al-Fitr (or “Eid” for short). This is a time to party, attend services, give gifts and eat during the day.
It can also be a good opportunity to have a little social event at the office; offer dates and nuts in the pantries for anyone who wants them.
Don’t stop there
Nothing drives engagement at work like being seen. When the dominant culture makes minor adjustments to the normal routine out of respect for the rituals and patterns of the few, the engagement effect ripples into the full community. As we learn about the lives of others, we encourage and even participate.
A few small actions make a loud-and-clear statement that your culture is one of curiosity, respect and celebration of rich diversity. Actions speak far louder than the words on the company website.
And don’t stop there. Depending on the cultural makeup of your community, you will likely have many other holidays to celebrate; from Chinese New Year, Diwali, Hannukah, Bastille Day and much more. Get to know your workforce – who they are, what they celebrate – and weave in a few of these to spice up the year.
Finally, involve your teams. Anyone who wants to the on the Diwali Committee should be invited to plan the event, develop the communications and find the perfect treats. After a while these sub-committees will be inspired to run the events themselves. Viral, organic employer marketing will be a natural result.
Get the book.
What does it mean to be “engaged” in today’s workplace? How do we inspire, inform and connect a working community, build a culture of irreplaceability, trust and listening to keep people onboard and rowing together?
Engagement is about bringing our best selves to the office, being heard, supported, feeing irreplaceable and free. This bright, funny comic book is a road map for leaders at any level, at any organization, telling the story of Covid, offering a clear, research-driven roadmap towards our future of work.
[i] Arab News (2016) “A beginner’s guide to Ramadan”. Accessed March 19, 2023 https://www.arabnews.com/node/935516/islam-perspective
[ii] Ghani (2013) “Most Muslims say they fast during Ramadan” Pew Research Center. Accessed March 20, 2023. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/07/09/global-median-of-93-of-muslims-say-they-fast-during-ramadan/
[iii] Puri-Mirza (2020) “Ramadan – statistics & facts” Statista. Accessed March 20, 2023. https://www.statista.com/topics/3796/ramadan-2017/