As managers, we have to find a way to balance an employees religious expression with the needs of the business and the requirements of the law and policy. This balancing act need not be onerous. Rather, an increase in cultural literacy will improve employee relations and encourage open communication.
Start with researching the stated religions of your employees. Don’t run up to them and ask, “Hey Sara, are you Jewish?” Rather, if a person displays a statue of Ganesh on their desk, there’s a good chance they are Hindu. This observation should be subtle.
Once you have an the most basic understanding of an employees’ religious beliefs, follow this practical example recognizing those beliefs.
Suppose there is an employee from India that celebrate Diwali. A manager can ask if the employee celebrates Diwali, and then give them your best wishes. The same is true for Muslim employees for the holiday of Eid ul Fitr.
The general understanding of the religious holidays and practices allows management to connect in a very intimate way with employees. Understanding that Ramadan and Lent are periods of fasting help the manager to plan work schedules. Also, improved cultural literacy around employees’ religions helps prevent embarrassing gaffes, like serving beef and pork barbecue at a company picnic where most employees are Hindu and Muslim.
Religion is a very personal and significant element of many peoples’ identity. Managers need to learn the general sensitivities and personal religious sensitivities of their employees. Further, while wishing someone “Happy Easter!” is a nice sentiment, employees may not care to have a manager too deeply involved in their religious practices, nor do they want to be proselytized at work.
Respect is a very easy concept to understand, but can take work to exercise it
effectively. As a general rule, managers should have some knowledge of the key aspects of their employees identities. This knowledge and understanding allows a manager to be sensitive to the individual needs of their employees. While religion is a very challenging topic in the workplace, it can be dealt with respectfully and the recognizes the uniqueness of each employee.