Wellness Wednesday: Keeping the faith

How to engage in your faith within a corporate environment

There are laws in the US that prevent companies from discriminating against employees based on their religion.  That means that a potential employer can’t hire you, or not hire you, just because of your beliefs.  This is very important and yet differs from the idea of being able to freely practice your faith and discuss your beliefs in the corporate world.

In reality, each company, and sometimes each group within a company, is unique in how much it tolerates or encourages free faith expression.  We too are each unique in our preferences as well. My first challenge to you is to figure out what your preference is. Before you can determine if any workplace is a good fit for you, you need to know what you want.

There are companies where a devout Muslim might be sitting right next to a dedicated Christian every day and they never discuss the similarities and differences in their faiths.  They may not acknowledge each other’s holidays. On the other hand, employees of a software company that make Church Management Software might be expected to practice their faith daily within the work environment. If a company was founded by a group with shared beliefs, then those beliefs might still be prevalent years later.

Many companies land somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.  Dell, for example, has groups of employees that share an interest or affinity that are called Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). One of these ERGs is called Interfaith where people of differing faiths can come together to learn about each other.  There are sub-groups of employees who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist.  Study groups meet during lunch and events celebrate all of the faiths’ holidays.  The employees are encouraged to visit celebrations of other faiths to increase the level of understanding and tolerance everyone practices.

You need to find the right mix of professionalism and freedom that fits with your preferences. If you are most comfortable separating work and your faith life completely, and you are interviewing with a company that starts every meeting with a prayer, you will have little trouble identifying the gap. This company will make their climate evident very early in the interview process.

The challenge is when you feel that separating the two will cause you to be hiding a large part of who you are and you are searching for a company that might even inspire your faith.  Maybe you don’t want to preach to your co-workers or be preached to, but you do want to be able to talk about events at your synagogue, mosque, or church.  Perhaps you want to feel comfortable talking about a faith-based mission trip you once participated in and you want to be able to ask a guy on your team about the rituals following a death in the family for his faith because you really want to understand.

For me, the majority of my faith expression at work is through actions, not words. I am bringing my faith to work with me each day and I am not hiding who I am. I am one of the leaders of Dell’s Interfaith ERG and have learned so much about how to treat people of other faiths with kindness by listening and caring. This is the environment in which I am most comfortable and I am fortunate to work at a company that matches my preference. But the same atmosphere wouldn’t be for everyone. You gotta do you.

If you want to know about a company’s faith culture before you accept a job, you will have to do a little detective work. You could inquire about available employee benefits or ERGs. You could scour the internet for hints or ask others who have worked there. If this is something that is going to impact how comfortable you are in your job, then it is definitely worth the effort to do some homework.

In summary, I challenge you to (1) determine the faith environment where you think you will be most comfortable, (2) search for a culture that matches your preferences for faith expression and (3) remember to be respectful of others’ right to be themselves!