Traditionally, spirituality and religion at work have been seen as things that don’t belong together in the same place. Depending on where you live and work in the world, both spirituality and religion are contentious issues in many societies as the beliefs, practices, and customs are as varied as we are as a species.
Add the litigious aspect of religious accommodation and the many cases we can all cite having to do with religious discrimination, and we have ourselves a significant challenge for leadership where it regards doing the right thing by their employees.
Is religion and spirituality at work a challenge or opportunity?
A 2014 study published by the Journal of Organizational Behavior purported that, “Employees who are permitted to discuss religion openly at work report having higher job-satisfaction levels”.
When we speak about belonging and identity in the workforce, it should be understood that religion and spirituality is, for many, a significant part of how your employees identify themselves and relate to others in the world. As with anything having to do with identity, asking a person to turn off or suppress any aspect of them at work breeds discontent and disconnect from an integral ingredient that makes an individual who they are.
We need to be honest in business that religion and spirituality isn’t a problem because of what it is inherently. Religion and spirituality, like race, gender and sexuality, is yet something more that as a human race we have yet to accept as part of not only what makes us different, but what we have allowed to separate us and cause friction in our relatedness to one another.
One human need, different paths to get there.
Religion and Spirituality offer different paths to a single human need to believe in something greater than the human. Conversely, the absence of a religious or spiritual focus for one’s life is also worthy of acceptance where theistic practices are predominantly the norm.
It is especially in dark and uncertain times, such as the current global pandemic, that people are moved towards anything that may provide solace beyond the chaos and an understanding of the order of things beyond what they physically and consciously observe in real life. Religion and spirituality give way to a deeper contemplation of our collective and individual existences. Yet still, it has seldom been allowed into the workplace, because like most things we do in business, we aim for the one-size-fits-all approach and shrink away from the challenges of protected classes and/or civil rights tied to one’s identity.
Leaders have a duty to ensure that each of their employee’s feels safe to show up fully, ideate without persecution so long as said ideation doesn’t lead to harm of another and that they feel empowered to express themselves in a myriad of ways that are meaningful to them. While introducing religion and/or spirituality into the workplace is mostly unchartered waters for many organizations, here are some things to consider and think through in unison with your workforce:
- Honoring the differences together-apart. As a leader and fellow member of the human race, how can you facilitate religious or spiritual conversations that allow your employees to come together (even with varied views) without them feeling like they are forsaking their own beliefs, moral compass, and personal ethos? “Together-apart” means we can be miles apart in our understanding of the world around us while we celebrate and seek commonalities among our peers and teams.
- Create a Code of Arms. Part of why religion and spirituality become problematic in life and work is that everyone wants their belief to be the best and closest to illuminating both mundane and higher truths. It can be useful to facilitate a session where employees can brainstorm what they think the important behaviors, mantras, commonly-held beliefs should be, so there is an understanding of how teams will work among each other, relate to one another and operate where religion and spirituality are discussed openly in the workplace. Having some parameters in place for what can be discussed and practiced can go a long way in setting expectations and ensuring that a professional environment continues to be prioritized.
- Developing an ecosystem with purpose and peace. It’s debatable whether religion or spirituality has always created peace with what we know historically. However, we know in modern times both continue to serve as an incubator for discovering individual purpose, collective purpose and cultivating peace. Allowing for religious and spiritual time during the day whether to meditate, pray, take a yoga class, or commune among others of the same religious denomination to observe a practice or tradition can create a sense of belonging and calm that leads to less stress, higher productivity, and more cohesive teams.
With the tumultuous nature of the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world, giving employees more ways to feel like they belong and that they are a part of something bigger than them can go a long way in keeping them motivated and centered, during a time where the chaos of life and work can be all-consuming.
Religion and spirituality must be approached with a lot of attention to detail, a genuine heart, and a dedication on the part of both leader and employee to be open to connecting with one another in unconventional ways, without placing judgment on one another and with the greater good in mind.
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