Christian employees feel 'silenced' in the workplace - study

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"Hostility" and "ridicule" are some of the experiences reported by Christian employees in the UK and US, according to a major new study.

Participants in the study by Pearn Kandola, a business psychology company, also reported feelings of being "silenced" in the workplace and a reluctance to share their faith because of a fear of offending colleagues or making them feel uncomfortable.

Over 1,100 Christian employees across the UK and US were surveyed during 2021 and 2022 for the study.

Of the Christians who said they wear religious dress or symbols at work, nearly half (45%) said they did not feel comfortable doing so, while a third (32%) felt uncomfortable reporting an incident involving religious dress or symbols.

Three quarters (74%) of the Christian employees who normally wear religious dress or symbols said they chose not to do so at work.

Americans were far more likely to wear religious dress or symbols at work (42%) than UK Christians (18%).

"The feeling of being 'silenced' has left many Christians feeling unable to express their religious identity through religious symbols in the workplace," said Pearn Kandola.

Across all survey participants, only 37% of Christian employees felt comfortable discussing the religious festivals they celebrate at work, rising to 51% among UK Christians. Just one in five (22%) US-based Christian employees felt comfortable discussing this.

Nearly three-quarters (70%) of all survey participants felt that their organisation was happy for them to take time off work to celebrate a religious festival, but American Christians were far more likely to feel this way (84%) than UK Christians (55%).

Only 52% of both UK and US employees felt the same about their line manager.

Over a quarter (29%) of all surveyed employees said that their organisations could do more to make people feel comfortable wearing religious dress or symbols, rising to nearly half (48%) of UK Christians.

Pearn Kandola attributed this to "a lack of clear guidelines and policies around religious expression in the workplace".

The study also invited a sample of survey participants to explain more about their experiences.

In the responses, many participants disclosed that they did not share their religious beliefs with others at work "to avoid causing offence to others".

"Some participants feared that expressing their religious beliefs may make some co-workers with different religious views feel uncomfortable and worried that this may instigate conflict, which they wished to avoid," said the report.

Where employees reported negative treatment, the report said that this "appears to stem from negative stereotypes that their co-workers hold about Christians, or those with religious beliefs".

"Whilst some participants had referred to positive stereotypes, such as the perception that Christians were caring or 'good people', one participant explained that this led them to feel under closer scrutiny and pressure to live up to this standard," it said.

Some participants said they had witnessed or experienced "ridicule" or "antagonism" over their religious beliefs "which sometimes went unchallenged by management", and some felt that their faith was treated with less sensitivity than others.

"My co-worker has said some disparaging things as she feels that people who come from my religious identity must be bigots or even fascists," said one respondent.

Others felt that the mocking extended to any form of religious belief and not specifically Christians.

Several participants reported an "unwritten rule' rather than an enforced silence" that kept employees from discussing sensitive topics like religion.

"Participants felt it would be inappropriate to go against the culture of their organisation by expressing their religious identity," said the report.

"A lack of clear guidelines and policies around religious expression, combined with a culture that does not encourage expression, led many employees to feel they should avoid the topic of religion at work."

The report recommends that employers "ensure that inclusion is embraced at all levels within the organisation" and create an inclusive culture "where participants who would like to share their beliefs have opportunities to discuss important aspects of their identity within a safe environment".

"Organisations should also develop clear guidelines around religious expression that are fair for all religious groups," it concluded.

"Managers should enforce and champion such policies and ensure that they are accommodating religious expression wherever possible."