New research published by leading business-psychology consultancy, Pearn Kandola, has revealed that many Christians today feel unable to freely express their religious identity at work.
The report, Religion at Work: Experiences of Christian Employees, found that Christians are experiencing similar forms of discrimination in the workplace as employees of other faiths. With the UK being a Christian country, there is an assumption that Christians are less likely to face issues when it comes to inclusivity. Despite this, the research has found that many feel unable to express their faith openly and are likely to be stereotyped at work.
Stereotyping and ridicule in UK workplaces
Qualitative research found that a number of Christian employees have witnessed or experienced ridicule around their religious beliefs, which often stems from stereotypes held about the faith.
A negative overall perception of Christians was cited as leading to a range of ‘disparaging remarks’ and ‘snide’ comments. Public ridicule experienced in some cases resulted in employees feeling unable to discuss their faith openly.
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Other reasons respondents gave for feeling unable to discuss their faith openly included a ‘fear of causing offence’. Some participants admitted to worrying that expressing their religious beliefs may make some co-workers with different religious views feel uncomfortable. Meanwhile, others felt that silence around religion was an ‘unwritten rule’, saying it would be inappropriate to go against the culture of their organisation by expressing their religious identity
Binna Kandola, OBE, Business Psychologist and Co-Founder, Pearn Kandola commented: “The Census recently found that for the first time, less than half of the UK described themselves as Christian. While a higher proportion of people still practise Christianity, many Christians are in fact facing similar issues as those of other minority religions. As our research revealed, they are not exempt from negative experiences at work, such as those involving discrimination and stereotyping."
Barriers to religious expression
The feeling of being ‘silenced’ was reflected in many Christians feeling unable to express their religious identity through religious symbols in the workplace. 82% of Christians who wear symbols as part of their religious expression chose not to do so at work.
As a result, 48% of Christian employees in the UK agreed that their organisation could do more to make employees feel comfortable wearing religious symbols. Many said they feel there is a lack of clear guidelines and policies around religious expression within organisations, alongside workplace cultures that do not encourage people to openly practise their beliefs.
Lack of support from organisations
The negative experiences of Christians in the workplace sometimes went unchallenged by management, with some participants feeling that they were offered less support than employees from other religious groups. Due to the fact that Christianity is practised by the largest proportion of the UK population, some participants felt that their beliefs were regarded with less sensitivity in the workplace.
While the vast majority said their organisation was happy with them taking time off for religious festivals, many participants felt they could receive more support to accommodate religious observance. Some felt that their employer would not support requests to pray during work hours and would not be willing to provide a suitable space for prayer.
“Without proactive management support in place, diversity and inclusion initiatives can often feel like a superficial ‘tick-box’ exercise,” said Binna Kandola. “Leaders really need to examine their cultures to be able to put actionable next steps in place. A big part of this is recognising that findings like this cannot be looked at in isolation. To create true inclusivity, organisations need to look at everything from race to religion and gender - and, importantly, how these attributes intersect.”
Promoting religious inclusivity
There are a number of actionable steps that organisations can take to promote greater religious inclusivity and normalise discussions around religion in the workplace. Raising awareness around different religious beliefs through events or company-wide initiatives was cited as a way for organisations to help improve understanding and ensure that inclusion is embraced at all levels.
Participants also felt that business leaders could develop policies with clear guidance around religious expression in the workplace, including adjustments to allow flexible working hours and provide prayer facilities. To ensure these policies are fair, they must take into account the needs of all religious groups and must be fully understood and championed by managers.
Binna Kandola said: “Leaders need to set an example when it comes to challenging stereotypical attitudes and be open to being challenged. Having open dialogues on religion, conducted in an atmosphere which fosters trust, safety and respect, will help organisations to build an inclusive workplace culture and ensure the right support is there for employees of all faiths.”