Faith and Human Resources: Working Together?
June 3, 2013
Recently, Wendy Murphy, Managing Partner at RSR Partners, a leading executive search firm and I hosted a small dinner gathering of several influential Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) from various well-known companies. The dinner provided an open forum discussion and exploration with Wendy, fellow CHROs, and myself into into the integration of faith in the workplace. Early in the conversation, consensus was reached that dynamics are changing quickly in the global marketplace and many of the old frameworks used to understand, attract, and retain employees may no longer be sufficient. Companies that have realized this have found or are seeking ways to engage and motivate employees, often appealing to their sense of meaning and purpose. On the subject, one attendee, an HR executive from a top Fortune 100 company, said of her organization, “we recognized that process alone does not equal success; relationships are also an important element.”
According to the World Factbook, nearly 85 to 90% of people worldwide claim to belong to a faith or religious tradition. So, engaging an employee’s sense of meaning and purpose at work now might mean cultivating a faith-friendly work environment as the millennial generation and their elders increasingly seek to bring their whole selves to work.
The dinner conversation produced a fruitful and stimulating discussion about some practical benefits and possibilities of a faith-friendly work environment. The general sentiment was that, properly implemented, a work environment that embraces the spiritual side of employees - which is consistent with best HR practice today that accentuates holistic thinking - could be beneficial to both employers and employees. However, many companies do not understand the issues, lack policies that address faith in the workplace, and are led by executives who have not recognized workplace spirituality as an important new dimension of modern business. Or, CEOs and CHROs recognize the potential value, but do not treat it not as a priority in the same way they focus on initiatives and programs to support the ethnic, gender, racial, physical, mental, and emotional aspects of employees.
Many questions discussed by the CHROs over dinner related to how to appropriately start the “faith” conversation with the CEO. A few possible options came out of the conversation. One person suggested the idea of bringing up faith at work in the context of what type of legacy the CEO wants to leave. Another suggested bringing up faith and work in the context of an external coaching session, where outside thought leaders can engage and challenge CEOs to think outside of normal paradigms. Attendees also recognized there is often a sense of the loneliness for many leaders at the top of an organization and it is possible that giving them permission to draw on their faith as a resource could be helpful.
In addition to brainstorming ways to raise the subject of workplace spirituality with CEOs, the dinner attendees also discussed some strategies regarding how to engage the employees in a “bottom-up” approach. One attendee, an HR executive of a major energy company, spoke about some work her company is doing in the development of their diversity and inclusion (D&I) program with an appreciation for the value of meaningful action. The conversation spurred her to think about how faith-friendly policies would fit within their D&I programs, especially as a means to help companies strive to meet goals related to employee well-being, reduced legal liability, and better talent recruitment and retention.
Other subjects that were important to the CHROs in the discussion were questions that revolved around identifying what faith at work meant for their particular company. More specifically, “how can a CEO or CHRO seek to create a faith-friendly environment that operates within the parameters of the company culture without overreaching?” There was strong interest in learning how to create a faith-friendly company environment that explores issues of faith without offending others, especially those of minority traditions, feeling as if they are being judged.
In addition to the organizational level considerations a few attendees shared some anecdotes about how their own personal faith has played a transformative role in their leadership development. One attendee spoke about how his personal faith influences his interaction with colleagues; with his faith acting as a major motivator to his daily commitment to help connect with individual employees and help them develop personally and professionally.
Other topics that were discussed included: how to handle stereotypes about different religions; the relationship between the self-awareness of management /employees and the success of faith-friendly programs; what role gender and gender orientation may play in terms of workplace spirituality; as well as what “language” to use to talk about faith in the workplace. Attendees shared their experiences of occasionally struggling to find the appropriate words to use when talking about faith or spirituality at work, and the need to often create a public “language” for talking about faith that may differ from the “language” that is traditionally used by a particular religious community.
Lastly, attendees were interested in knowing how they could measure the impact of faith-friendly policies at their companies. As one possible solution, I offered The Integration Box (TIB) assessment tool for consideration. The TIB, new psychometric scale I have developed with my colleagues Tim Ewest and Jonathan Lea, is a vehicle to help individuals and employers identify ways people manifest their faith at work. The TIB was discussed and recognized as one possible measuring tool to help shape policy and practices. Some of the attendees expressed interest in becoming test sites for the TIB.
All of the attendees left with a heightened interest in understanding more about workplace spirituality, and what a faith-friendly environment might look like in their respective companies. While each person had varying levels of personal interest in the subject, all felt it as professionals that this was a timely and important topic to learn more about, discuss further, and consider as part of their talent, diversity and inclusion, and well-being HR strategy.
If you or your company is interested in receiving updates about the TIB and creating a faith-friendly work environment at your company please feel free to contact me (email@example.com) or Jonathan Lea (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
David W. Miller