According to Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, for most employees the workplace is more than just a place where they earn money.
“Besides providing an income, the workplace constitutes an important part of an employee’s everyday world, with high relevance for individual self-esteem, social connections and inclusion into the community and the society at large,” he said.
Because the workplace is somewhere we spend the majority of our daily lives, issues such as religious belief and practices naturally need room to be a part of this.
This is where religious intolerance and discrimination in the workplace needs to be addressed and tackled, if we are to introduce better work-place balance and higher quality of life among workers.
Bielefeldt addressed this issue as part of his presentation of his report on the elimination of religious intolerance, during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Third Committee.
He stated that there are many reasons for religious and belief intolerance in the workplace, which includes already established prejudices against religious minority groups, restrictions on religious attire in order to keep up with ‘corporate image’, and even public holidays which reflect the belief of only one religion.
Quite often, religious intolerance is a product of misunderstanding and being misinformed. Oftentimes people attribute certain religious beliefs or practices as an act of favouritism at the expense of the principle of equality.
“Combating discrimination requires a comprehensive approach of tackling both direct and indirect forms of discrimination based on religion or belief,” Bielefeldt said. “A culture of trustful and respectful communication is needed in order to identify the specific needs of persons belonging to religious or belief minorities.”
Some of the recommendations Bielefeldt suggested in order to help combat religious intolerance in the workplace includes the need for States to introduce and establish better anti-discrimination laws which would cover employment in public and private sectors, the provision of training and advisory services on religious tolerance, the teaching of religious diversity and acceptance, and for workplaces to introduce tailored ways to accommodate their workers religious beliefs and requirements such as introducing public holidays which fit different cultural and religious backgrounds and providing information booklets on diversity in the workplace.
Bielefeldt says that any limitations of the right to manifest one’s own religion or belief in the workplace, if deemed necessary, must always be specific and narrowly defined; and be able to pursue a legitimate purpose.
“In short, provided there is good will on all sides, practical solutions can be found in most cases,” he said.
“What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.” – Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), French Writer
Human beings aren’t necessarily born intolerant. We are taught to accept differences and embrace those around us who possess different qualities or outlooks. However often – as we get older – these differences may challenge our levels of comfort or feelings of safety, and those who act, dress, or think differently to us may cause us to struggle with basic acceptance or tolerance.
This is where the promotion of tolerance is so important, as it encourages us to open up honest communication, foster new friendships, and promote loyalty, inclusion, and acceptance.
Tolerance in the workplace is essential to creating a positive working environment and to promote happier and healthier workers.
Workplace religion makes people happier.
This is what a recent study has shown – and it makes sense.
No longer is religion a taboo topic at work. The Kansas State University research study on religion in the workplace has found that people who are open about their religion at work are actually happier.
Sampling people from several different countries and religious backgrounds, the study showed that it is actually beneficial to celebrate all manner of religions in the workplace, and that workers who celebrate and talk about their religious beliefs typically have better attitudes and connectivity than those who work in a religious-free or religiously intolerant workplace.
For those people who said that religion was a significant component in their life, they disclosed that they were far more outgoing in a work environment that encouraged them to open up about their religious beliefs. Naturally, this ability to be open about their religion allowed them to be much happier and more productive at work and at home.
“If religion is important to you, and you are not open about it, it may mean that you are hiding aspects of yourself from your co-workers. Keeping secrets or presenting a false self can be stressful and can negatively impact relationships you develop with your co-workers.”
Being “open” about your religion at work can be manifested in several ways. In general, it means the ability to talk openly and freely about the religious values and beliefs that you hold close, which makes up who you are. It is about being able to celebrate and be accepted and to not feel threatened or forced to hold back on disclosing beliefs that are precious or dear to you.
It could be as simple as decorating your office space with a memento that is symbolic to you, being encouraged to attend social events or celebrations of different cultural or religious beliefs, and being encouraged to learn about other peoples religion or background on a personal and respectful level.
Based on this study, employers might want to consider more religion-friendly policies or try to find ways to encourage religious expression.
The Religious Tolerance website provides great tips and helpful insights into dealing with religious intolerance at work. To view these, click here.