Whenever I’ve managed online communities in the past, almost without fail, it was decided that two topics would be forbidden due to their combustible nature. Politics and religion tend to be such emotive topics that they can often cause divisions where none existed previously, which is obviously not great for any attempts at creating a harmonious group of people.
So how does that apply to the workplace? Should the same general rules apply and the political or religious leanings of employees be kept firmly out of the workplace?
Does religion have a place in the office?
A new study suggests it may actually be beneficial to get these things out in the open. The paper reported that employees who are free to discuss their religion openly in the workplace were happier and more engaged than those who were deprived such an opportunity.
The study, conducted by a group of academics from the University of Akron, University of Hawaii, Michigan State University and Kansas State University respectively, quizzed around 500 employees in both the United States and South Korea about their various religious freedoms at work.
The researchers chose the US and South Korea because they represent two contrasting cultures, especially when it comes to self-expression. Americans, for instance, are regarded as being very free, and indeed are even encouraged, to express their individuality. Koreans, by contrast, are seen as a more collective society.
Interestingly, this didn’t seem to matter at all. It emerged that employees from both nations overwhelmingly reported a supportive culture in their workplaces for religious expression. The respondents revealed that their employers were supportive of diverse opinions, and as a result, employees were free to openly discuss their religion at work, which in turn made them very happy and engaged.
This was contrasted with the respondents who weren’t in such a fortunate position. When their employers were quite dismissive of diverse beliefs, it resulted in a lack of opportunity and freedom to discuss religion at work, and general dissatisfaction and de-motivation was the result.
Organisations should step carefully
Whilst the report was broadly supportive of employers being open when it came to religion, they did provide a warning. The authors suggest that organisations should be mindful of the potential implications, both in terms of organisational culture, but also in legal terms, of addressing religion in the workplace.
"During the holiday season, if your organization makes a big deal about Christmas, for example, they could be sending the implicit message that they value Christian belief systems over other religions," the authors warn.
"This may inadvertently lead individuals to hide aspects of themselves, which can lead to stress and reduce employee commitment. Organizations would benefit from ensuring that they are a safe place for the expression of multiple beliefs."
All of which reinforces the notion that this is something of a minefield. The study does remind us, however, that there are some clear benefits to the employer that can manage to navigate this uncertain field effectively.
Do the benefits outweigh the risks though? I’ll leave that to you to decide. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Does your employer encourage religious expression at work?
Image: Work Matters