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Religious diversity at workplace: Implications for HR managers

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Mansi Babbar - Assistant Professor, University of Delhi India

04-May-2020

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It has been witnessed that employees usually file religious discrimination cases on four grounds i.e. religious harassment, failure to accommodate religious beliefs, disparate treatment and retaliation. There have been many cases where the Muslim women employees were not allowed to wear Hijab (headscarf) to the workplace or the Sikh employee was not allowed to carry the Kirpan (ritual dagger) to the workplace. The employees feel insulted and disrespected which makes them knock the legal doors.

Workplace diversity refers to the diversity among employees along various dimensions such as age, gender, education, culture etc. One such diversity facet is religion which has gained limelight in recent years. The religious diversity in organizations has flourished majorly because of the globalization, increased migration and labour mobility. Though the religious diversity impacts organizations significantly, yet the management researchers are not much keen to undertake research in such an area because they don’t consider religion as a management construct and instead relate it to sociology and theology. This is the reason that the management research in the context of religiously diverse employees is limited in scope.

 

Based on the research papers, this article makes an attempt to synthesize and systematically categorize the various pros and cons of celebrating religious diversity at the workplace and offers practical implications for the HR managers.

 

It is contented that employees these days are not willing to maintain a “work self” and “non work self” i.e. they are not willing to shed their religious skin before entering their work places and thus they consider religion as a very integral part of their identity. On the other hand, there have been increasing cases of religious discrimination at workplace which presents serious managerial challenge that needs to be addressed.

 

Legal perspective

 

It has been witnessed that employees usually file religious discrimination cases on four grounds i.e. religious harassment, failure to accommodate religious beliefs, disparate treatment and retaliation. There have been many cases where the Muslim women employees were not allowed to wear Hijab (headscarf) to the workplace or the Sikh employee was not allowed to carry the Kirpan (ritual dagger) to the workplace. The employees feel insulted and disrespected which makes them knock the legal doors.

 

In USA, employees are shielded from religious discrimination at workplace under title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The law upholds that employers should reasonably accommodate religious practices and beliefs of employees unless it causes undue hardship and adversely affects performance of the organization. Other countries such as Netherlands, United Kingdom, Denmark and Portugal also have laws in place to protect employees against any sort of religious discrimination. In India, although the constitution provides for religious freedom, yet it is lagging behind in enforcing its laws to the workplace and this needs due attention from the HR managers.

 

Positive outcomes

 

The research in this area suggests that celebration of religious diversity at workplace could lead to various positive outcomes such as job satisfaction; life satisfaction; well being; mental health; organizational commitment; emotional intelligence; better productivity and performance. This is because employees view it positively as organization’s acceptance of their diversity and they feel free and happy to openly express their religious affiliations and identities. The research has also found that Bodhisattva practice at work i.e. meditation brings peace and calm in the employees and instils in them values such as mindfulness, concentration, consciousness and morality that enhances personal development which ultimately contributes towards organization’s growth. However, the other side of the coin dictates negative outcomes of the same that need to be understood before arriving at any conclusion.

 

Negative outcomes

 

In many cases it is seen that the public expression of religion is not viewed positively by the fellow colleagues and they feel threatened since they consider it as proselytism. This results in increased interpersonal tensions, conflicts, stress and intolerance that impairs synergistic collaboration and adversely affects the performance.

 

The prime reason for this is religious fundamentalism. It refers to the dogmatic way of believing that there is only one true religion and all other religions are myths. Such thinking makes the employees highly intolerant towards each other’s religion and therefore negative outcomes are witnessed.

 

Implications for HR managers

 

Considering the above mentioned, it is quite clear that positive outcomes outnumber the negative ones. Therefore there is need to leverage religious diversity at workplace but utmost care should be taken by the HR managers to ensure that all the employees view such diversity positively and the concept of religious fundamentalism should not prevail in the minds of employees especially at workplace.

 

The HR managers should strive to bring the religious majorities and minorities in contact with each other. This can best be achieved by introducing games or cultural activities at the workplace wherein the employees interact informally with each other and are better able to understand and respect the identity differences they have. Further, while making the work teams, managers should include religiously diverse employees which give them a fair chance to interact and understand different religions. The employees feel an emotional connect when they interact on regular basis and this result in synergistic collaboration and improved performance.

 

Appropriate strategies need to be devised by the HR managers to educate the employees regarding the diversity of others. Diversity training is one strategy that can be used to create awareness among employees. Both the instructional (e.g. lectures) and experiential (e.g. role plays) approach can be used to educate the employees regarding the benefits of diverse individuals working together and to develop empathy towards others.

 

To tackle with the negatives of diversity, many organizations have introduced “diversity speaker series” where eminent personalities are invited to deliver lectures on the topic. The Diversity library in the organizations (both online and offline) can further help the employees in understanding the company’s diversity programs and initiatives.  Lastly, to motivate the diversity managers, they should be publicly recognised, so that they work in high spirits and deal proactively with the diversity issues.

 

To conclude, it can be said that the HR managers should stop avoiding the diversity discussion. In fact, they should start leveraging it at the workplaces so as to achieve “prosperity in diversity” that would bring in various benefits for the organization.