by melinda bak
Avoidance of all things religious in the workplace is understandable, given the worldwide drift toward heightened political rhetoric and divisive language.
But, company policies meant to suppress religious-talk are actually undermining best efforts at diversity and inclusion; instead fueling exclusion and misunderstanding.
Today's cutting edge workplaces, instead of dodging all things religious, are finding wise ways to integrate and value diverse faiths that are at the heart and soul of their employees.
Consider that Christmas, Hanukkah and Eid (as well as the holidays of other religions, not covered by this website) are avenues for exceeding inclusion compliance.
By cultivating authentic understanding and engagement we can propel business innovation and outcomes by freeing employees to see connections and foster relational, product and service connections.
Here's the singular caveat. Censoring religion in the workplace was a well-meaning effort that did protect business associates from inappropriate efforts to evangelize others. Proselytizing is not only bad for business, it makes us all feel really awkward. And that feeling isn't limited to religious proselytizing.
Maybe the real issue isn't religion. Maybe its the propagandizing of opinion, regardless of topic. What ought to be censored isn't culture (from which faith is inextricable) but conversion-conversations. Political, religious, gender or cultural coercion.
After all, in America 3 out of 4 Americans (to varying degrees and with varying affiliations) are religious, according to the Pew Institute's 2018 Religious Typology Study. That's nearly 184 million (out of 245 million) adults in the United States who identify belief and faith as relevant to their lives. And that makes religion not only statistically significant for business, but essential to understanding employees, customers, clients and coworkers. Ban coercion, not culture.
Defying stereotype and welcoming conversations about our diverse traditions can lead to innovation (ways to market to new populations) and holiday gatherings that go from perfunctory to significant.
Rather than tiptoe across the room of diversity's shattered intentions
and muting conversations that hint at religious differences,
what if we instead spoke to one another about
our unique beliefs and traditions?
What if the Christmas season is actually a season like no other - when we have unique opportunities to build bonds of respect?
You and I, we could be on the forefront of creating businesses and communities that do more than regulate diversity - we could be freed-up to value those whose ways are different than our own (businesses breaking the religious sound-barrier).
consider these 5 ways
you & your business can
advance inclusion this Christmas
1. Allow your natural curiosity out of the closet.
What are you really wondering about Christian, Jewish, Muslim celebrations? Or (beyond these) about another tradition's holidays? Ask.
Build a stronger workforce by encouraging respectful conversation (no proselytizing allowed). Instead of leaving staff disconnected during the most consequential celebrations of their year, encourage individuals open to conversation to hang a postcard at their desk or set a table tent on their lunch table (like the seek understanding image in #5 below) if they're open to talking with others about their traditions.
Encourage people to say to those who opt-in, "I'd love to learn more about your culture's understanding of this season." Genuine interest in someone whose ways you don't fully understand is an incredible gift.
2. Candle-lighting ceremonies are a part of Jewish, Muslim and Christian (as well as other faith's) holiday traditions. Consider welcoming a light from each tradition into a public venue. Then, extend an open invitation to a lighting ceremony when delegates from each faith (representative employees or faith community emissaries) briefly explain and light a Menorah, a Lantern and and a Wreath. A bit of background on each tradition:
3. Clarify or perhaps amend business policy. Affirm that questions which seek understanding (without intent to convert or belittle) are questions with potential to make diversity relational and business successful.
Business partners or employers will need time to work through apprehensions tied to hypothetical harassment allegations; start the policy conversation now. Know that cultural conversations which advance diversity and inclusion need not exclude religion. It is coercion, not culture, that ought be prohibited.
Beyond employment law, the First Amendment (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof)is often flipped on its head and taken as a ban on religious expression rather than a constitutional provision that prevents the government from imposing religious conformity. Thus, conversations which advance understanding, are equally tolerant of diverse contributions and refrain from acts of reprisal, have the potential of improving inclusivity. In our global economy, holiday-talk can not only boost business innovation and decision making but advance otherwise elusive business breakthrough.
4. Acknowledge that holidays are big business by how you engage your employees.
"For some retailers, the holiday season can represent as much as 30 percent of annual sales," says the National Retail Federation. In fact, most businesses realize 20% of their sales during the holiday season (leaving only 7% per month during the remainder of the year). Understanding motivations and religious underpinnings is to our advantage as business owners. It not only affects the bottom line, but understanding among coworkers increases goodwill, engagement and commitment to the business.
According to the Gallup Organization’s research, "the average working population ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is near 2:1." And, Gallup adds, employee engagement is key to businesses that want to succeed in the marketplace. Engaged employees are not only more productive, customer-focused and profit-generating, but they remain part of the team longer while inspiring other employees to achieve greater outcomes.
Effective communication, clear goals, leadership development and effective performance plans all contribute to engagement. We also know that employee engagement is heightened when businesses ban coercion but welcome cultural and religious diversity, resulting in increased satisfaction, empowerment and connectedness.
Gallup indicates that when businesses actively pursue engagement, employee engagement soars to a 9:1 ratio. The bottom line? Engaged and valued employees are good for business.
5. Replace the "don't talk about religion" rule, with a fresh "seek understanding" directive.
By placing an emphasis on diversity and inclusion, learning about the faith underpinnings of someone else's holiday celebrations is individually affirming and organizationally upgrading.
Charitable giving is part of most faiths. So, providing opportunities for employees to "give back" to the community not only aligns with solid business practice - but with personal convictions. More than ever, employee engagement and social impact are intertwined.
Employees want to work for companies that care. In fact, Cone Research found that 79% of people prefer to work for a socially responsible company. Beyond that, 86% of workplaces acknowledge that their employees expect them to provide opportunities to engage in the community, supporting causes and issues that matter to those employees, according to America's Charities 2015 Snapshot.
Opportunities to participate in workplace sponsored, community service have an even higher impact when employees are given an opportunity to tell one another "why" they serve. Recall author Simon Sinek's, Start with Why and remember that it's not enough for people to know what (service activity) they are doing, they need to know why. When you not only create opportunities but occasions to "seek understanding" you create an environment where people are valued and engaged. "Imagine a world where we wake up inspired to go to work," says Sinek.
Imagine a world where coercion is checked and culture celebrated. We can do more than comply this Christmas, Hanukkah and Eid.
It's time to seek understanding.
Wondering how to give an appropriate gift to your Muslim, Jewish, or Christian friend?
Want to learn the right holiday greeting?
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