To merely state that religion is part of our essential make-up, would be stating the obvious and indeed would be an understatement. By simply examining the historical lengths that various religions have been practiced, one can understand the significance of religion to human-kind. Although it is nearly impossible to establish a specific starting point for religions, the following table displays a few major religions and their approximate time of existence. Religion has been and will continue to be a significant element in our lives.
Further, as the self-proclaimed Melting Pot, all of the above religions, plus countless others are practiced in the United States. For many American workers, religion and spirituality provide a direct channel for life enrichment, happiness, and success. In most cases, the fruits of religion are achieved in the person’s private life. Increasingly, however, there are times when a person’s religious beliefs, practices, and opinions enter the workplace, come into conflict with job responsibilities, or perhaps even come into conflict with co-workers.
Additionally, if an employee for example, is the only one at work who practices Islam, that person may be subject to discrimination or lost opportunities due to their dissimilar belief system. Further, an employee does not need to be part of a minority religion to be subject to discrimination or lost opportunities. A practicing Christian in a predominately Christian workplace, who openly professes his/her faith, may be subject to negative treatment and may also make others uncomfortable. These are a few examples of negative organizational outcomes.
Does religion/spirituality belong in a work environment? Or is it out place? There are extreme views on these issues. A call for strictly secular work environments has its merits, while the call for more spirituality or religion in the workplace has its merits as well. The final solution lies somewhere in between. This solution will vary from organization to organization depending on the degree of diversity within the company. It boils down to the administration of the company recognizing the diversity in its workforce, understanding their different needs and reasonably accommodating them accordingly.
In most cases good communication, flexibility and reasonable accommodation from both parties will solve the problem. This report will help employers understand how religion affects the workplace and practical steps that not only will avert conflicts, but will also encourage and embrace diversity as an instrument for organizational success. Several statistics back-up these statements. In a book, The Next American Spirituality, by George Gallup, Jr. , Gallup used his organization’s polling prowess to ascertain religion’s importance to private American citizens in 1999.
The results of one specific poll are poignant. According to that poll, 78% of respondents felt the need to experience spiritual growth. In that same poll 48% said they had reason to talk about their religious faith in the workplace during the past 24 hours. Although, Gallup respondents in the poll were predominately Christian, the results do show that there is a definite divergence of religion and work. (Conlin, 1999) In the United States some of the more practiced religions, alphabetically, are Buddhism, Christianity, Eastern Orthodox, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Native American and Sikhism.
Within this large umbrella there are various denominations and “flavors”. According to Gale Research, the total numbers of religious organizations are placed at 1,550 in the Encyclopedia of American Religions. Out of this group, 900 are classified as Christian denominations and around 75 are classified as various forms of Buddhism. More than 100 Hindu denominations have come to the US since mid-1960’s. Also of note is that several different projections show Islam overtaking Judaism as the second most practiced (by sheer numbers) religion in the United States within five years.
The Tanenbaum Center for Inter-religious Understanding teamed with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) for two separate thorough surveys of both employees of faith (1999) and HR professionals (2001). According to the HR survey, over 80% of the HR Managers responding identified Christianity as being present, either by obvious visual cues or by conversation, in their respective workplaces. That is probably not very surprising for most white Anglo-Saxon, Christian Americans. However, nearly 50% of the HR Managers responded that the Judaism was present in some form.
Most surprising however is that nearly 30% of the HR Managers responded that Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam in some form were all present in their respective workforces. It should be noted that the percentages do not add to 100% because respondents were allowed to answer more than one religion. As employers we must be aware of how these statistics affect our work places. Several questions arise regarding religion in the workplace. To start with, should religion be an acceptable discussion topic at work?
Can, or should employers allow sanctioned religious activities at their workplaces? Does our work atmosphere promote an accepting, non-confrontational experience to people of minority religions? Do we accept and embrace diversity within our workplace? Do we provide reasonable accommodation to employees who may have differing religious needs? Finally, does our company have a written policy regarding religion in the workplace? To answer these questions, one must first have a general understanding of the legal environment pertaining to religion in the workplace.