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Management: Religion In The Office
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Management: Religion In The Office - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Religion In The Office

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Religion In The Office

Religion in the workplace is a tricky issue and must be handled with caution. Few topics mean as much to people on personal levels: among the traditionally taboo professional topics of conversation, perhaps only politics is more divisive. Yet personal political views don’t carry with them certain legal and logistical considerations, as with paid time off, so the subject is further complicated.

Issues of religion at work fall into two broad categories. First, there are the issues of personal, private expression and how that coexists with employees’ jobs. In addition to time off for religious observances, there are concerns related to attire, daily devotional (as with meditation or prayer), and activity. Adding to the minefield is the fact that several state and federal holidays have traditionally religious origins which may not overlap other specific religions. Most offices simply lump the governmental holidays together as institutions of government, not religion, and deal with other required days off as vacation or discretionary days. This allows people to take their time off without penalty or elaboration, which in most cases takes care of tension among colleagues. Since some of the variables here have to do with employment law, make sure your HR people are well versed in the issues, and approach any problems with your employees’ well-being in mind.

The second way religion finds itself a hot topic in the office is not with requirements of faith versus work, but by way of the personal, everyday expressions of faith. People of similar faiths, for example, may want to spend time in prayer or study together at lunch or after work, which may not be intended to be an issue for others to deal with, but often does. Some people of faith feel compelled by the conviction of their beliefs to share it with others, which can cause the kinds of discomfort that make the workplace feel unsafe and unfriendly. On the other hand, it can also provide a kind of diversity or unity that makes people love where they work.

The easiest thing to do is simply encourage everyone to keep religion away from the work, something many adhere to as a matter of personal policy and professional respect anyway. Since this kind of self-regulation is prevalent in most places, chances are you won’t need an official policy or memo. And in an office where people value and accept one another for their differences, there’s room even for more vocal practitioners. Rather than allow differences to become divisive, nurture a team who celebrates diversity, and there will seldom be problems.

If you stoke the warm fires of diversity and acceptance, problems originating from religious issues then become more about managing people than managing issues, and that’s what you want, because then the issues are about getting along with each other, something that falls into the category of professionalism. The Thursday lunch prayer circle isn’t trying to make non-participants uncomfortable, so if it becomes an issue, you aren’t dealing with religion so much as people’s feelings for one another, a much easier path to walk than the one involving people’s deeply held beliefs.

The office is made up of people. People who work there want to get along. Keep the issues within that framework, and in many cases, you can simply bring people together to have a conversation, and they’ll work out their differences on their own.


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