Share By Sachin Shenolikar
How many different religions are practiced worldwide? That’s a tough question to answer with certainty —the law forbids organizations such as the U.S. Census from asking about religious preferences. But there’s no doubt that people of many different faiths are living and working together all over the globe.
Religious diversity can have pitfalls, as major issues can arise as a result of intolerance and ignorance — and anti-discrimination laws and policies attempt to address them. But sometimes there’s a blurred line that managers must toe, especially when working with employees who practice religions that are not as common in the area. Those people may feel culturally excluded in the office or afraid to ask for flexibility to accommodate their needs.
“The reality is, if you have people at work, you have [different] religious practices at work,” says Cy Wakeman, author of The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace. “So stop arguing with that reality and find ways to acknowledge and support individual practices while maintaining a high level of accountability.”
Wakeman gave Real Business tips on how to manage employees of various faiths — making everyone feel like they belong and keeping the level of productivity high.
1. Clear Line of Communication. If you sense an issue brewing with an employee, the first step is to sit down and have an honest chat. “Simply ask employees of different faiths, ‘How can I best support you?’ and ‘What would you like me to know about your religious practices?’” says Wakeman. “This is a respectful way to show your openness while leaving the amount of sharing and privacy to the employee.”
You and the employee can then work together to accommodate religious holidays without that time off counting as vacation. “I would focus instead on ways in which they can ensure that their religious practices do not disrupt their own performance and productivity along with not being disruptive to the team,” says Wakeman.
2. Invite Them to Lead. Another way to help people of different faiths feel included is by asking them to take a lead role in planning company events and celebrations. They can weave in their own customs.
When you are planning those events, be mindful of food and alcohol consumption preferences and try not to schedule events on religious holidays. Take some time to research other religions. “Be curious and learn about the world and the people you manage,” says Wakeman.
3. Reach Out to Mentors. If an employee approaches you with a request you don’t understand, or might be abusing your generosity, turn to people who are members of the corresponding religion for advice. “That way your biases are not the basis for the decision,” says Wakeman. “Seeking advice and counsel from the peers of the requester has worked really well for me in the past.”
4. Deflect the Backlash. Not everyone is religious, so you may face some pushback from employees who perceive religion-based days off or other accommodations as favoritism. “Encourage them to focus on creating great results and living drama-free,” says Wakeman. “Rather than focusing on what others are given, ask if they have sincere beliefs that need to be accommodated and what they are willing to do to make that happen.”
5. Be Open-Minded. Look at it this way: Many religions offer teachings on the very topics managers would like their employees to practice. That could be a great thing for you and your team.
“I believe participation in religions and religious practices are a wonderful form of talent development,” says Wakeman. “All religions seem to focus on [things such as] ridding self of ego, self-reflection, focus on the greater good, accountability, tolerance, and forgiveness — all great qualities in the workplace.”
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