HR has a pivotal role in offering a holistic perspective on religion in the workplace, which can lead to higher rates of employee loyalty and benefit the wider business, according to research published in Human Resource Management.
The researchers found that religious identity can be neglected in HR theory and practice, which makes it a workplace diversity issue prone to tension and conflict. But they argue that religious beliefs profoundly affect how employees experience and function in the office.
The study highlights three key features that influence how people and their religious identities interact at work, and in doing so shape how they express their religion on the job: the individual’s personal preferences; the opportunities the organisation provides them to express their religion; and the characteristics of their specific belief system.
The researchers found that religious and occupational identities can be compatible when work roles promote the expression of religious identity and where policies and practices support that expression.
Dr YingFei Héliot, one of the report’s authors and a lecturer in organisational behaviour at the University of Surrey, says businesses with greater workplace tolerance of and support for religious expression report higher levels of employee loyalty. “Religious identity can also function as a coping mechanism, and the associated values and practices – such as compassion and helping – can enhance work, particularly in specific occupations such as mental and physical health professions, which benefit from the ability to relate and offer emotional support to clients or patients,” says Héliot.
The researchers warn that employers need to become more aware of differences in religious practice as the workforce becomes more diverse, as well as understand their legal obligations to accommodate it.