More than a decade ago we participated in a group of leaders and CEOs who were interested in the topic of spiritual well-being in the workplace. We had many meetings and deep discussions on the importance and relevance of all dimensions of well-being, including spiritual well-being. Most of us came from different religious backgrounds and beliefs. Our discussions were an opportunity for sharing ideas. Our diverse backgrounds created a learning and supportive environment as we contemplated the meaning and appropriateness of implementing spiritual well-being in the workplace.
Recently Harvard Business Review published an article on religious identity and DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion). Although our group used a broader umbrella of spirituality, the meaning and hoped for outcomes were similar. Our discussions may have been ahead of their time, but this article brought back the need and significance of what we were fostering back then.
All those years ago after making incredible progress on cultivating spiritual well-being in the workplace, one of our most heated discussions was when a CEO announced that religious acceptance really does belong in the workplace, but then proceeded to describe his religious beliefs as correct and he would ‘require’ all employees to take time to pray together – yes, he said require all to participate in prayers based on his beliefs. In this person’s mind, there was only one ‘right’ religion and the sooner that was accepted would lead to well-being. This was a painful and difficult outcome; however, the learning for all was to leave proselytizing out of all spiritual well-being discussions and to focus on listening and acceptance instead. This must be the focus to grow, learn, and accept.
We still believe in the importance, not only for well-being and DEI but for the growth opportunities for the organization, leaders, and all stakeholders. All of us can learn and grow from understanding different perspectives and meanings. Yes, navigating the topic can be difficult and tricky. And concerns surrounding the topic still need to be addressed today as more organizations wade into this important area.
There are resources to help prevent issues and concerns. One resource is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination. According to the HBR article, the Manual offers up-to-date guidelines and practical case studies to support business leaders as they navigate tricky issues related to religion at work. Several of the guidelines are:
Providing meaningful and flexible accommodations for employees’ diverse religious practices.
Many aspects of religious expression intersect with company policies, for example, time off and schedules. Here’s how some companies have added accommodations within their policies and procedures:
- Holidays: Review your policies and at least offer floating holidays, giving employees the flexibility to choose which holidays are meaningful to them, whether religious or secular. Google took it a step further (Strengthening Your Culture of Respect for All) and made an inclusive scheduling guide for employees on accommodating diverse religious practices.
- Dietary restrictions: Adherence to different religious traditions often includes dietary restrictions, for example: some Hindus do not eat beef, some Muslims and Jews do not eat pork, some Mormons do not drink caffeine or alcohol, and some Buddhists are vegetarian. This information can be gathered during the onboarding process and shared with managers and food preparers who order food for work events.
- Spaces for observance: Companies can provide a designated prayer or meditation space for employees of any faith or tradition to pray or reflect. For example, some call these serenity rooms or quiet rooms.
Offer ongoing religious diversity skill-building opportunities for all employees and leaders. The HBR article summarizes a powerful case example of some religions praying with their whole body that can be misunderstood. Best practice is to engage religious diversity that includes case studies, storytelling, and practical application to inspire and equip team members for success.
From senior executives to all stakeholders, employees across every sector need skills and knowledge to engage religious diversity to be successful in their roles. Sixty percent of companies in North America offer regular diversity trainings for their employees, but few include a robust focus on religion, an essential element of diversity.
These guidelines avoid any proselytizing or messaging that can be perceived as promoting one religious belief or prayer.
When viewed from the multi-level perspective, well-being initiatives need to be collaborative endeavors with partnerships throughout the organization including, HR, Wellness, Safety, Managers, and Employees. From this approach, a focus on spiritual well-being benefits not just individuals, but the organizational culture and organizational learning.
Being open and accepting does not require anyone to change their own path but merely to acknowledge that there are many paths and be willing to learn about the paths that others choose. The HBR article includes many ideas and suggestions.