Religion and the Workplace: Pluralism, Spirituality, Leadership

Religion and the Workplace: Pluralism, Spirituality, Leadership

Religion and the Workplace: Pluralism, Spirituality, Leadership

Religion and the Workplace: Pluralism, Spirituality, Leadership

Synopsis

How can company leaders and employees negotiate their different religious and spiritual commitments in the workplace? At a time of international debate over religious conflict and tolerance, workforces in various parts of the world are more diverse than ever before. Religion and spirituality are, for many employees, central to their identities. From the perspective of the employer, however, they can be distracting or divisive influences. This book analyzes the current interest in religion and spirituality in US companies. It offers conceptual distinctions and comparative examples (from the pluralistic contexts of India and Singapore) to trace the myriad ways that religion is present at work. It offers a model of respectful pluralism, asserting that the task of effective and ethical leadership in organizations is not to promote a single spiritual or religious framework but to create an environment in which managers and employees can respectfully express their own beliefs and practices.

Excerpt

I am writing this introduction during December. This religiously charged month is a fitting time to contemplate religious diversity in the workplace, especially in the United States. Because a majority of US citizens are Christian, or were at least raised in that tradition, Christianity has enjoyed a culturally privileged status in this country. Christmas is not only a religious holiday but a national and consumeristic one as well. December has become “the holiday season.” More noticeably than at other times of the year, company leaders struggle with whether and how to respect the diverse religious commitments of their employees. The interreligious calendar is full of festivals in December. This year Chanukkah falls during the first week of the month, and Ramadan culminates with the feast of Eid al-Fitr on the 6th. Many Buddhists mark Bodhi Day two days later, and Wiccans celebrate Yule on the 21st. The Christian season of Advent leads up to Christmas on the 25th. Kwanzaa, a cultural festival observed by African Americans, starts the following day and continues until New Year's Day. Should American companies celebrate them all? What about atheists who do not have a holy day and, like some of their co-workers, believe these holidays have no place at work?

When Christians constitute a majority of employees, some managers find it acceptable — and traditional — for the office to celebrate Christmas. But that reinforces what Jews, Muslims, and others already know: Christianity enjoys preferential status in many companies. When bosses disguise Christmas parties as “holiday” parties but retain the tree and the carols, the practice is not genuinely inclusive. Other managers try an avoidance strategy — no cards, no trees, no parties. This dodges some problems but fails to recognize that faith of one sort or another is essential to many workers. Besides, employees have come to expect some kind of festivity as a perk for their labors. Some company leaders attempt a promising route of displaying diverse symbols in the reception area, but this raises the question of which traditions should be represented.

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