While Canadian culture has long been described as a mosaic, employers’ holiday policies are more likely to tie statutory holidays to Christian celebrations than reflect the country’s true multicultural identity.

In 2022, to better support an increasingly diverse workforce in both Canada and the U.S., Victoria-based software company Redbrick formalized its policy of allowing employees to take personal significance days in lieu of stat holidays throughout the year.

Christine Tatham, vice-president of people and culture at Redbrick, says the program is based, in part, on feedback from employees who weren’t always able to celebrate religious and cultural occasions that fall outside of traditional stat holidays. Since the program’s implementation, several employees have chosen to work on the stat holiday during long weekends in order to take a different day off.

Read: Redbrick supporting remote employees through benefits offerings, virtual events

“We’re really allowing them to have time with their family. For example, people who don’t celebrate Easter, having that time off really wasn’t of any personal benefit to them. . . . We have a very diverse team here at Redbrick — there are people from all different backgrounds working [in our offices] across Canada and the U.S.”

DEI by the numbers

91% of plan sponsors believe they promote and support a diverse and inclusive workplace, according to the 2022 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey.

72% of global business leaders have increased their organization’s investment in DEI over the past 12 months, according to a report by the World 50 Group.

• Roughly half of Canadian employees say employers that are committed to DEI (54%) and Indigenous reconciliation (48%) inspire brand trust, according to a survey by Proof Strategies.

The conversation around Truth and Reconciliation also played a role in the program’s development, she notes. “At the time, the government was looking at Truth and Reconciliation Day and we were talking about, ‘What does that mean for us and how do we make it meaningful for people?’ And that led to, ‘How do we make all holidays meaningful for people?’”

Tatham points out personal significance days aren’t limited to religious or cultural celebrations. For example, several employees have opted to work on Labour Day in order to take off their children’s first day back at school.

According to a new survey by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., 78 per cent of Canadian employers are enhancing their recruitment strategies by incorporating policies and programs that support diversity, equity and inclusion.

Read: Survey finds majority of employers say attraction, retention increasingly impacting total rewards decisions

Farzeen Mawji, Gallagher’s national practice leader in inclusion and diversity, says programs such as flexible holiday policies can effectively demonstrate an employer’s commitment to DEI and assist in recruiting candidates from a wider talent pool.

“[Flexible holiday policies are] certainly gaining more and more prominence with [employer] clients. Some organizations are saying, ‘In addition to the statutory holidays, we’re going to give you a number of flex days to be used for however you want to use them.’ Other organizations are saying, ‘We’ll give you a number of flexible days for the whole year and you work with your managers to decide which days are important for you, that may not align with Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter.’”

For employers that are considering implementing flexible holiday policies, employee input and feedback is key to ensuring a smooth rollout of the program, he adds. “A lot of organizations will have a lot of great thought go into these policy updates and then they’ll start rolling things out with what they think is going to help and they might not get it right. Employers need to ask their people what they need and then develop a survey that’s going to help them in the way they want to be helped. Once [the program has] been rolled out, employers need to get feedback to ensure it’s right and be ready to make any adjustments.”

For a minimal amount of effort, flexible holidays can also yield an outsized return on investment, says Mawji. “Beyond some system changes and maybe a little bit more coordination, it’s actually not that [difficult to implement]. Employees feel valued and heard, which increases their sense of belonging and they’re wanting to be engaged and be more productive. As a result, absenteeism and presenteeism [are likely to] decrease and the costs associated with turnover also decreases.”

Read: Could provincial governments legislate paid time off for religious holidays outside of Christianity?

While the prospect of employees switching around their holidays may pose some logistical challenges, it isn’t too different from planning around normal vacation schedules, says Tatham, noting any conflicts can be mitigated with proper planning.

“Whenever you’re going to take some time off, you always check in with your manager and make sure that day is OK before booking it off. Fortunately, I’ve never had to say no to anybody [taking a personal day of significance.]”

The program is part of Redbrick’s wider DEI effort, which includes a talent acquisition strategy focusing on diverse candidates and employee training on issues such as unconscious bias. The company’s DEI strategy is paying off: according to its latest pulse survey, 100 per cent of employees said they’d recommend Redbrick as a place to work, while 95 per cent agreed the company provides equal career advancement opportunities to people from all backgrounds and 94 per cent felt the company is committed to DEI.

“We’ve always been an organization that tries to really meet people where they’re at,” says Tatham. “We try to make sure that whatever we’re implementing fits with our team members. And it isn’t always easy, because everybody’s so different — we have everybody from co-op students to married professionals with families. Everybody’s on a different journey.”

Blake Wolfe is the managing editor of Benefits Canada and the Canadian Investment Review.