Despite being the most common religion in the UK, many Christian employees feel unable to comfortably express their religious identity at work, with some experiencing negative stereotyping or ridicule from colleagues.
Research carried out by and D&I consultancy Pearn Kandola found that 82% of UK-based Christian employees who would normally wear religous dress or symbols do not do so at work, and 66% of those that do feel uncomfortable doing so.
Only 55% agree their organisation is happy for them to take time off for religious festivals, and 43% say the same of their line manager.
Half (48%) feel their organisation could do more to make employees feel comfortable wearing religious dress or symbols.
Religious expression at work
Qualitative research involving Christian workers in the UK and US found some had been ridiculed or experienced antagonism because of their religious beliefs, which sometimes went unchallenged by their employer.
One said: “I have only told my very closest friends the depth of my beliefs because of the way the vast majority of the staff there have ridiculed religion so publicly and so viciously.”
Other examples of negative experiences at work included colleagues saying disparaging things about Christians, and workers hiding their religious identity because they feared it might cause offence or prompt potentially contentious discussions.
The Religion at work: experiences of Christian employees report finds that the barriers to religious expression include:
- a lack of clear guidelines and policies around religious expression, combined with a workplace culture that does not encourage religious observance
- a lack of interest from managers and coworkers in relation to discussing religion
- religious observance not being accomodated by employers, including some respondents being required to work during hours they would usually attend worship services
- restrictions in their role. For example, teachers are required to remain impartial at work, which limits their ability to express their beliefs.
It makes several recommendations for employers, including:
- ensuring that inclusion is embraced at all levels, which will create an open, welcoming, supportive and respectful organisation
- increasing diversity to help people from religious groups to feel less isolated and more comfortable in expressing their beliefs
- improving understanding around religious diversity, including events that give employees an opportunity to learn about different beliefs
- accomodating religious observance by being flexible about Sunday working, as many Christians regard Sunday as a day of rest and worship, and providing prayer facilities
- developing guidelines to clarify the extent to which employees can express their religious observance
- normalising religious discussion while respecting individuals’ preference not to express their beliefs.
Binna Kandola, business psychologist and co-founder of Pearn Kandola, said: “The census recently found that for the first time, less than half of the UK described themselves as Christian. While a higher proportion of people still practise Christianity, many Christians are in fact facing similar issues as those of other minority religions. As our research revealed, they are not exempt from negative experiences at work, such as those involving discrimination and stereotyping.“
The quantitative survey involved 523 UK employees, while the qualitative research involved 110 people across the UK and US.
Pearn Kandola recently carried out similar research into the workplace experiences of Hindus in the UK.