Separation of Church and Cubicle: Religion in the Workplace,
University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business, 4/30/15,
Where to Draw the Line
… There is a case to be made for bringing religion into the workplace, experts say. Religion makes people happier, and happier means more productive. Employees who are permitted to discuss religion openly at work report having higher job-satisfaction levels, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.
The study, “Applying Models of Employee Identity Management Across Cultures: Christianity in the USA and South Korea,” was authored by Simon Fraser University professor Brent Lyons, University of Maryland professor Jennifer Wessel, University of Hawaii, Manoa, professor Sonia Ghumman, Michigan State University professor Ann Marie Ryan and Kansas State University doctoral student Sooyeol Kim.
Employees who are permitted to discuss religion openly at work report having higher job-satisfaction levels, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.
The study looked at a sampling of workers who identified as Christian, and found that pressure to conform and reduce self-expression had a distancing effect on workplace dynamics. “Engagement in distancing strategies relates to negative outcomes in both the [U.S.] and South Korea, including increased turnover intentions and reduced job satisfaction and well-being,” the researchers noted. They advised that managers should foster a tolerant environment that allows workers to “affirm” their religion.
But what happens when one employee’s increase in happiness means another’s discontent? Is proselytizing just a form of self-expression? “People are more inclined to bring their whole selves to work,” says Stewart Friedman, director of Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project. “It’s about family; it’s about who you are as a person. The problem with some religions is that they can be divisive, and so where it seems to me to make sense to draw the line is if you are professing your religious beliefs and that causes harm to other people. That’s a problem.”
Workers did not arrive at this place entirely on their own. One workplace trend has specifically encouraged them to bring their personality to work — the push for authenticity. “I am really troubled by the simplicity of bringing your whole self to work,” says Rothbard. “The fact of the matter is, it is difficult and complex to bring your whole self to work, and people who do it successfully are doing it carefully.”
Smooth integration of religion into the workplace is a fairly limited phenomenon, says Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics Amy Sepinwall. One example is the small business — say, a kosher butcher, where everyone is the same religion and no employee needs special permission to take off on the Sabbath. Here, “there can be a great sense of comfort or ease for the employees as well as management,” says Sepinwall. The other format that works is when an employer of a more heterogeneous workforce holds prayer meetings or religious events, but does not compel anyone to attend. “All of that is to say that I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to have religious practice in the workplace,” she notes. “But I could see that it could become alienating if the practice is enforced.”