CSR and Religion in the Workplace

Policies dealing with diversity in the workplace are commonplace in UK CSR practice, but those relating to religious beliefs are not. Only one in three large organisations has explicit policies about religious beliefs at work.

The Institute of Business Ethics has just published a new paper, Religious Practices in the Workplace, which argues that this is a neglected area of CSR. The author says it has implications for a wide variety of business areas, including corporate governance, risk management, and human resources.

The IBE paper also says that this is an area of employee wellbeing which organisations should take seriously.

There are a number of different trends which have made the issue of religious beliefs at work more pertinent. These include: the rise in immigration, the growing internationalisation of business, the diversity agenda, generational differences, employee well-being and new UK legal developments.

The paper points out that the growth of immigration has changed the religious make-up of the UK population. There has been an increase in the number of people who follow non-Christian religions, and this is likely to be reflected in the workplace.

The diversity of workplaces is increasingly important and considered ethically correct, as well as of economic benefit to the organisation.

Management experts say that companies which plan to accommodate different religious beliefs at work as part of their CSR strategies will have happier employees and avoid potential headaches.

The paper quotes Charles Mitchell of The Conference Board as saying: “How frame the issue can very well determine whether it becomes a source of employee irritation and litigation or a step on the road to becoming an employer of choice to a new generation of workers.”

Younger employees, says the IBE, are more likely to be open about their views and want to be able to express these at work. If they are prevented from doing so, they may become angry and frustrated.

The Archbishop of York has said: “Asking someone to leave their belief in God at the door of their workplace is akin to asking them to remove their skin colour before coming into the office.”

With this in mind, developing policies around the issue of religious belief requires thought, planning and sensitivity.

However, the paper is not just recommending accommodating religious beliefs for fear of being sued. It says that good CSR practice, including promoting morale and worker contentment translates into higher productivity.

If employees feel that their religious beliefs are appreciated, rather than just being tolerated by their employer, they are more likely to feel loyal. One way of expressing this is through a written policy but this should be ‘not a formula, but a frame of mind’.

This IBE paper is an interesting examination of a potentially controversial subject. Rather than seeing religious belief at work as a potential problem, he demonstrates the value that recognising it can have for both employer and employee.


Photo credit: Brandon Baunach