Why We’re Offering Juneteenth as a Company Holiday this Year — and You Should Too!

An HR Pro’s perspective on how to use the Juneteenth anniversary as an opportunity to evolve and reaffirm your company values

by Sarah Koller, SHRM-CP. People Operations Manager @ GoCo

One of our core values at GoCo is to Evolve, which means we strive for continuous learning, growth and working on becoming better versions of ourselves. So when a fellow GoCoNut (employee) asked our CEO if GoCo could recognize Juneteenth as a company holiday for 2020, our leadership team was on board. 

Recent events surrounding the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor have compelled us to want to be more deliberate in how we approach and reflect on our history, and our own role in combating racism. For those who aren’t familiar with Juneteenth, the celebration originated in Galveston, Texas (just a few miles north of GoCo headquarters) when union soldiers finally got word to Texas that the slaves were freed – June 19th.

But why does this important holiday matter to HR professionals and the companies they work for?

According to Juneteenth.com, it’s a holiday that should be “focused on education and self-improvement”, which I see as an important part of my role as an HR professional. There are no laws or rules about what holidays, if any, you have to give your employees. The company holidays you celebrate can be a statement about what you value. Looking at the holidays you provide through a new lens of equality can reaffirm your company values,  and give you a chance to demonstrate willingness to evolve and learn.

Current events have made it apparent that the fight for racial equality is far from over. It’s currently very much in our crosshairs but we cannot take our foot off the gas. We have to do better. Celebrating Juneteenth as a company can be a reminder to ourselves and to our employees that we need to keep making strides to be anti-racist and to have tough conversations. 

The benefit of giving company time off is for people to spend time with their family and friends while championing days that are important. Changing or even adding celebrations can give you an annual reminder of the continued work that needs to be done. Responses like “but we always have these certain holidays off,” is not a good enough reason to remain stagnant.

For us, at GoCo, we know that we must keep looking at making improvements. That’s why we developed a Diversity and Inclusion task force. Having a task force makes supporting diversity a constant in our culture. We added Juneteeth to our calendar this year to give people the time to reflect on how we can do better for the Black community, and the task force will be taking a look at our holiday calendar for 2021 and beyond.

But let’s be real – adding Juneteenth to a company calendar and giving people the day off is not the place to stop, it is one small mile marker on a cross-country journey of continuous improvement. In the age of COVID-19, as we are reimagining work and productivity – why can’t we reimagine what it means to take the day off and remember the end of slavery and how much further we have to go.

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