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Faith helps working life, research suggests

01 December 2023

But discrimination in workplace revealed in a second report

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BRITISH workers who profess a religious faith are more trusting, satisfied, and optimistic than those who are atheists, a new study suggests.

The report, Making Faith Work: Job satisfaction in the UK, was published on Wednesday by the Institute for the Impact of Faith in Life (IFFL) (News, 24 November). It reports that 77 per cent of the survey respondents who identified as religious were satisfied with their job, compared with 50 per cent of the atheists. Equally, 77 per cent of 5h3 religious workers said that they trusted their colleagues, compared with 49 per cent of the non-believers.

The survey was conducted by TechneUK of 2004 adults in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, between September and October. Those surveyed were asked about the importance of religion in their lives, and about their approach and attitude to work.

Seventy-three per cent said that their employer respected their religious beliefs and accommodated their practice. Eighty-seven per cent of those professing religious faith, compared with 70 per cent of the atheists, said that it was important to carry out their everyday responsibilities and duties in a thorough manner.

In terms of optimism, 35 per cent of the religious sector believe that the best days of the UK economy lie ahead, compared with just 16 per cent of the atheists.

The author of the report, Dr Rakib Ehsan, a senior research associate for IIFL, said that the findings could be attributed to several factors. “There is mounting evidence that faith can contribute towards psychological resilience and mental strength,” he said. “This can position one to better withstand the inevitable pressures that come with working life — in turn consolidating levels of job satisfaction.”

Satisfaction could also be attributed, however, to their employers’ accommodation of religious practices and spiritual beliefs. “Britain’s world-leading anti-discrimination protections and considerable religious freedoms have fostered a broader workplace culture, which is generally accommodating of those of faith. This should be a source of national pride.”

But another study, Religion at Work (2023), published this week by Pearn Kandola LLP business and DEI consultants, found that discrimination against religious employees was common in British workplaces.

For its report, Pearn Kandola surveyed 6315 employees, half of whom worked in the UK and the other half in the United States. They included Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs. The survey found that nearly half (47 per cent) of the respondents did not feel comfortable discussing at work the religious festivals that they celebrated.

Of the 3433 respondents who wore religious dress, almost two-thirds (64 per cent) reported that they were not comfortable wearing it in the workplace. Nearly four in ten (38 per cent) felt that their organisation could do more to be more inclusive of people of different faiths.

Almost one in five (19 per cent) reported having had their request to take time off to celebrate religious festivals rejected, although this varied according to religion: while 69 per cent of Christian respondents reported being allowed annual leave for holy days, only 25 per cent of Hindus and 31 per cent of Muslims were permitted to do so.

Nearly one third (32 per cent) of the respondents reported being subjected to mockery, exclusion, mistreatment, isolation, stereotyping, and discrimination when they expressed their religious identity at work.

A partner at Pearn Kandola, Binna Kandola, who is a visiting professor at Leeds and Aston Universities’ Business Schools, said: “It’s extremely disappointing to find that people of all faiths are likely to experience discrimination, or have a negative experience at work.

“While organisations realise the benefits of developing diversity and inclusion strategies, many seem to be falling short when it comes to creating an open and inclusive environment for people of faith.

“Businesses are not getting the best from their employees when they feel the need to conceal important parts of their life, such as religious beliefs. We hope the findings of this major report will be a wake-up call and prove a catalyst for organisations to takes steps to improve the experience of people of faith.”

Pearn Kandola also polled a nationally representative sample of 2000 British people to understand perceptions of religion, society, and work.

It found that nearly one in five (19 per cent) had witnessed someone being judged because of their religious beliefs in the workplace.

The most common types of discrimination witnessed were being the butt of jokes (32 per cent), being isolated or excluded from activities (23 per cent), being denied annual leave for religious festivals (22 per cent), being told not to wear religious clothing (22 per cent), or being mocked for the food that they ate (20 per cent).

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