Largest Ever Religion-at-Work Survey Shows Employees Are Still Uncomfortable Expressing Their Religious Identity

According to a study released last month, businesses are still not providing an inclusive and tolerant environment for religious employees whose faith is an important part of their lives.

Over 6,000 U.S. and U.K. Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh employees took part in the “Religion at Work” study, making it the largest of its kind, with the goal of learning what barriers religious employees still face on the job.

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Pearn Kandola, the consulting firm that carried out the study, wrote: “We set out to understand the experiences of people who have a faith in the workplace; the obstacles they face regarding religious expression; and what organizations can do to create more inclusive environments.”

“Whenever a religious minority is being discriminated against, it’s like the canary in the coal mine. Because then it’s open season on ALL religions.”

Among the study’s findings:

  • 19 percent of those surveyed were rejected when requesting annual leave for religious holidays or festivals.

  • Less than one-fifth of those surveyed said they were comfortable discussing their religious festivals at work.

  • Of the 3,433 employees who customarily wear religious dress or symbols outside of work, 77 percent chose not to do so in the workplace.

  • Of the 23 percent who wear their religious dress or insignia at work, only 16 percent actually felt comfortable doing so. Employees wearing religious attire like a yarmulke or Sikh turban may encounter verbal abuse ranging from jokes to outright hate speech. When such incidents occur, only 39 percent felt comfortable reporting them.

  • 38 percent of respondents said their businesses could do more to help religious employees feel comfortable expressing their faith.

The report found commonalities and disparities between the U.S. religious employees surveyed and their U.K. counterparts. British religious employees, for example, are more likely to encounter a lack of awareness and understanding and to fail to receive the religious accommodations they need from their employers. U.S. employees, on the other hand, are more likely to encounter challenges discussing their beliefs in the workplace.

The study was announced on the website of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF), a nonprofit devoted to promoting a business culture wherein employees feel comfortable and secure bringing their whole selves—including their religious identity—to the office. According to its website, RFBF is “dedicated to educating the global business community, policymakers, non-government organizations and consumers about the positive power that faith and religious freedom for all (including those with no religious faith) have on workplaces and the economy.”

RFBF works to enlighten business executives on how encouraging religious diversity, accommodation and understanding in the workplace actually helps their bottom line. RFBF was called upon to advise the White House on ways and means of educating CEOs, employees and stakeholders on the rising wave of antisemitism and how to combat it.

“Whenever a religious minority is being discriminated against, it’s like the canary in the coal mine. Because then it’s open season on ALL religions,” said RFBF President Dr. Brian Grim. Fostering a safe space at work for religious employees, Grim believes, will go a long way toward eradicating religious intolerance and exclusion everywhere.