Religion and the Workplace


Today’s post is pure opinion.  Many, I am sure, will disagree, to some degree.  But, anyway…

Religion doesn’t have a place in the workplace.  People are there to do work, not proselytize or make their cubicle an extension of their home.  In bigger operations, there are so many people around that someone will inevitably get offended by someone else’s beliefs, take the matter to HR and then it’s a whole new problem.  It can be solved by keeping your beliefs at home, or at least out of the office.

Jewelry seems to be one of the main points of contention for some people.  While crosses and Stars of David are accepted, anyone else’s religious jewelry is frowned upon.  Why are there two standards?  Why not just tell employees to leave their religious icons at the door?  Oh, wait, can’t do that, someone will inevitably scream discrimination and everyone will of course feel persecuted because they can’t wear their cross/star/pentacle/whatever.

But when you are trying to be a team, to work together in an enclosed space for 8 hours in a day, 5 days a week, shouldn’t you be trying to put everyone on a more even playing field?  And it is a double standard.  Why are Christian and Jewish symbols allowed but Islamic, pagan, Buddhist, and anything else so frowned on?  Think about it, and you’ll see that it’s true.  I often see on pagan forums about workplace-appropriate wear that many pagans either do not wear their pentacles or keep them hidden on their person, and for two reasons: either they don’t feel it’s appropriate to wear their religion on their sleeve in the workplace, or they aren’t out of the broomcloset.

This is probably true for many other religions as well.  And it can be uncomfortable, at times, knowing that you are wearing your symbol but it’s hidden.  What if someone saw it?  What if your necklace slipped out from under your collar?  What would you do then?  The double standard is ridiculous, and it could be solved if more people realized that the workplace is not an extension of your home–it is a business with (I would think) a lot of diversity and people with differing cultures/religions.

I am not slamming Christianity or Judaism or any other particular religion.  That is not the issue.  I am taking to task the double standard that allows certain groups to have their symbols displayed publicly but forces others to feel like they need to remain hidden from fear of ostracism or losing their job because they don’t conform to the straight-and-narrow.

Also at issue is something else I have heard of but never seen: people bringing in religious items to decorate their cubicles/offices with.  I think the same issues apply to this practice as to the jewelry practice–eliminate the double standards.  Make people more aware that while they are allowed to practice the faith of their choosing, they are not allowed to use their office or cubicle as their proselytizing platform, however subtle the images or hints.  Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are wonderful things–but not necessarily when other people feel their own rights are being infringed upon by someone’s display.

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3 responses to “Religion and the Workplace

  1. I don’t think I agree. I hope that my office or cubicle in the future can be an extension of my home to an extent. I feel that I, and many other people, do better work that way. I feel more comfortable and am better able to focus. I don’t see having various religious items, as long as they don’t interfere with your coworkers, like a picture of a spirit animal or some crystals or whatever, as being that different than decorating with pictures of loved ones or posters of a cat saying “hang in there”. As long as it isn’t leaking into someone else’s space it is a way to claim your own space.

    In large companies it can be difficult to claim your identity. You feel like a faceless and nameless cog. But if you can decorate your space. Really make it your own, you will be happier. Companies like happy people because they do good work and aren’t “disgruntled employees”.

    • I never did explain what I mean by an extension of the home. What I mean there is not to strip every bit of personality from employee’s cubes. Pictures of family and pets, an inspirational quote or two, maybe a few knick-knacks, those all seems fine to me. And if someone has maybe an inspirational quote from the Bible taped to their desk, I think that would probably be ok. What does not strike me as ok are great big print outs of religious rhetoric, or signs saying “Be happy, God loves you!” in their cubes where other employees could see and possibly find uncomfortable. Small things, not big things. And it also gets back to the double standard–if one employee has that sort of thing in their cube and doesn’t get in trouble for it, why should a person of another religion not be allowed to, or be made to feel uncomfortable about doing so?

      Also, I wouldn’t think that companies would want their employees who interact with customers engaging in proselytism through such means, but that’s just purely my opinion.

  2. I could not possibly more emphatically agree with your two (three, two and a half?) points here! Religion and the workplace are meant to be separate period. Leave the preaching for outside your 9-5.

    As far as jewelry goes, I personally keep my jewelry casually hidden – under my shirt, whatever. If it does slip out and I’m asked about it, I respond honestly “I’m pagan”, quietly tuck it back in, smile and move on. Perhaps this is just because of my limited work experience, but I have yet to have any real problems with this. Either way, I do feel double standards are ignorant and wrong, and there should be a single clear unified standard, regardless what it is.

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