Why we celebrate Diwali in the workplace (and why you should too!)

Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, has been a fixture on the MYOB calendar for a decade and it’s only growing in popularity.

Signifying the victory of light over darkness, the event traditionally includes many lights, lamps and fireworks, while participants dress in their finest outfits, participate in prayers, feast and exchange gifts between family and close friends.

As an official holiday, Diwali is celebrated from Sri Lanka to Singapore, Mauritius to Myanmar and even Trinidad and Tobago – so it should come as no surprise that it’s popular among many Australians as well.

But how did it get started at MYOB?

Diwali at MYOB: launching a new tradition

Beginning as a discussion among several MYOB employees of Indian origin at our Burwood office, the first MYOB Diwali took place 10 years ago as something of an experiment.

MYOB Client Manager Pavan Chandra, who has led the MYOB Diwali Committee from the very beginning, described the motivation for the first MYOB celebration of Diwali as a way to “introduce colleagues of other backgrounds to Indian culture”.

“We put some money together to buy some Indian delicacies and dressed up in our festival outfits for the celebration,” Chandra told The Pulse.

“We were elated to see everyone’s involvement in the event, so we decided to make sure it was even bigger the following year.”

With each passing year, more people become actively involved with the celebration, and activities like henna tattooing, sari and turban draping have all been added to the line-up.

Office culture as a reflection of shared values

There’s no single reason why Diwali’s seen such success as an office-based event; for some it’s the connection to a culture tradition, for others it’s a learning experience and (of course) everyone agrees it’s good fun.

However, after MYOB’s Chief Financial Officer Richard Moore had the pleasure of hosting the event in 2016, he developed insight into why Diwali is such a good fit in the office from a leadership perspective.

“MYOB employs more than 1500 talented and diverse people,” Moore explained. “We aim to provide an open and inclusive culture for people with a range of cultural and religious beliefs, and the MYOB Diwali celebrations reflects that.”

“I personally found the event enlightening (excuse the pun!), and I learned a lot about a culture and festival that I didn’t know much about previously. I would hope that others also found the event fun and informative.

“From the organisation’s standpoint, it helps promote diversity and engagement – the event last year was extremely well attended and feedback was very positive.”

By celebrating a popular cultural holiday on a ‘normal’ work day, MYOB has created a way that all of its employees can participate.

The power of this kind of workplace initiative can be easily gauged by the reactions of MYOB participants from cultural backgrounds that wouldn’t normally observe Diwali.

MYOB Acquisition Sales Team Manager Michelle Carlin Day said that she now looks forward to Diwali as a major feature of the working calendar, as “each year’s event is better than the last”.

“Everyone is able to participate in some way, either by getting traditional outfits from their friends and dressing up, receiving a henna tattoo, trying out a turban or sari, or even just eating some Indian snacks,” said Day.

“There were lots of ways for anyone to get involved as much or as little as they wanted to and it was really inspiring to see how so many people get behind it.”

Doing Diwali your way

If your office is crying out for its own cultural celebration, whether it’s Diwali or something else entirely, there are a few things to sort out before you whip out the decorations.

  1. Allow leadership from within the workforce – like our own Diwali day, cultural celebrations should be ideally driven by passionate workers to ensure the event is both wanted and not seen as insensitive to other cultures
  2. Facilitate a volunteer organising committee – passionate cultural leaders can be empowered to dedicate their time to working out the logistics and finances of the event. Even our Diwali events have their own business case and budget!
  3. Timing is everything – set boundaries on where and when the event is held to ensure there’s no clash with especially busy times or teams. These events should ideally improve productivity, not hamper it

This year, MYOB will be celebrating Diwali on Friday, 13 October while the international holiday will actually run for five days, 19-23 October.