Faith-friendly workplaces benefit employees

2013

Employees working in environments that support their faith or spirituality have better relationships with their colleagues and are more likely to be engaged in their work, according to research presented at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology annual conference earlier this year.

Once considered a corporate taboo because of its association with religious proselytizing and indoctrination, spirituality is becoming more acceptable in the workplace, said Patrick Hyland of Sirota Survey Intelligence, one of the researchers.

The study, based on more than 11,800 responses to an annual survey conducted for a multi-national company also found that employees in faith-friendly environments felt safer and more fairly treated.

But as he pointed out, being "faith-friendly", where a company is welcoming of all traditions and all beliefs are treated on a level playing, is very different from being "faith-based".

"It's critical to clarify the difference," Hyland said. "Spirituality at work is not about getting employees to buy in to a specific set of religious beliefs. Rather, it's about helping employees tap into their personal core values and work towards goals that are both personally and professionally meaningful. It's about enabling employees to connect their inner lives and personal passions with their day to day work."

The distinction is important because, as a report by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding pointed out earlier this year, with half of American workers now coming into contact with people from different cultural and religious backgrounds when they are at work, the risk of tensions and conflict due to religious differences is increasing.

In contrast, the goal of a faith-friendly company is simply to recognize the importance of faith for many employees and respect their desire to integrate it into their lives. It's not about promoting religion.

Signals that an organization is spiritually-friendly can be subtle but significant, Hyland added.

"Small actions can make a big difference. Senior leaders can remind employees about the bigger mission their organizations are trying to achieve. Immediate managers can help employees find more meaning in their day to day jobs, their struggles, and their successes. HR can create the space for spirituality at work by setting up affinity groups and meditation rooms.

"At the end of the day, it's about creating an environment where employees feel they can bring their full selves to work and have a professional life that is aligned with their deepest inner convictions."

Or as Dr David W. Miller, executive director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, put it in a seminal 2006 report, "Not demanding that one's spiritual side be checked at the office door can provide employees with access to a tool to help deal with their emotional and spiritual needs. Strong moral and worker contentment often translates into higher productivity and more customer-friendly attitudes."

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