Right to celebrate one’s own traditions

Merja Koistinen, President of the If Union team and Marketta Helokunnas, Head of Nordic Employment Relations and HR Compliance at If. 

In 2023, we made an exceptional decision to offer our employees the option to substitute a public holiday with one that aligns with their individual cultural or religious beliefs.

Many of our public holidays are related to the church year in the country in which we work. In a multicultural organisation, this potentially limits equal opportunities for all employees to celebrate the holidays that are significant within their own culture or belief system. At If, we value the diverse backgrounds of our employees and aim to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable being their true selves. For these reasons, If has taken a pioneering step to allow employees the flexibility to honour their own cultural and religious holidays. 

- At If, we are proud to be an increasingly diverse organisation with individuals from various backgrounds. Diversity enriches us, but with it comes the responsibility to acknowledge the unique aspects that are significant to individuals with different cultural backgrounds, explains Marketta Helokunnas, who is Head of Nordic Employment Relations and HR Compliance at If. 

The right to celebrate one’s own traditions and holidays is important in the promotion of an inclusive work culture.

Adding freedom of choice 

We have already encouraged employees to take time off during the holidays that are important to them as part of their own culture or religion, and leaders at If are expected to grant leave during significant cultural holidays, even if they are not celebrated nationally in the country in which the employee works. 

In 2023, we started to investigate the possibility of changing our company policy so that employees would be able to exchange a public holiday with one from their own religion or culture. 

– This required a comprehensive analysis from both a business and legal perspective. Despite the additional work, company management has been committed from the beginning. We then started local agreement negotiations with trade unions, Helokunnas explains. 

– As employee representatives, we were supportive from the start of this employer initiative to establish local agreements concerning holiday swapping. I really appreciate the culture at If, which respects diverse life values and promotes inclusivity. We are truly committed to fostering an increasingly equal working life, says Merja Koistinen, who is President of the If Union team. 

A pilot programme in 2024 

To test the right to celebrate-initiative, we will pilot it throughout 2024 and gather insights and experiences within the organisation. This year, employees can choose to work on Good Friday, Easter Monday and/or Ascension Day, and take a different day off that aligns with their cultural or religious beliefs. These three days were chosen because they occur on the same day of the week every year. 

– Employees can freely choose which culturally important days they want to celebrate: the freedom of choice is not restricted to religious days, explains Helokunnas and adds: 

– We are excited to see how many employees will exercise this option to celebrate their culture or religion. The initiative has already attracted the interest of our employees and has received positive feedback – especially from teams with diverse backgrounds.