Broaching the topic of religion in the workplace can mean wading into an emotional and legal minefield, which is why most US companies prefer not to talk about it. Yet as the religious diversity of the workforce increases and religious discrimination complaints are on the rise, faith is becoming an issue some employers can’t afford to ignore. To that end, the French oil company Total has issued an extensive guide to religion in the workplace, Francesca Fontana reports at the Wall Street Journal. The guide covers both general knowledge, such as an explanation of the basic tenets of major world religions, as well as workplace-specific issues such as whether managers need to provide halal food at company meals:
At 92 pages, the English-language version of Total’s guide offers few firm rules but states that employees’ religious practices, such as prayer, should generally be respected and accommodated. Employees aren’t required to read the document, which is available to those who are “curious,” said a company spokeswoman. The company created the guide to aid managers and employees who “may have questions or doubts on this topic, working with people who might not eat, dress or pray the same,” said the spokeswoman.
It’s interesting and telling that Total created this guide to satisfy employees’ curiosity, rather than any legal concern. In doing so, it is demonstrating that religious pluralism and tolerance are among the values it wants to instill in its culture by encouraging and empowering employees to educate themselves about their colleagues’ religious beliefs and practices. Rather than imposing a long list of rules, Total invites employees to understand why these values matter at their company, which our research at CEB (now Gartner) suggests is often a better way of getting the message across.
In our research on rewards communications, we’ve found that when organizations ensure that their employees understand the intent of specific benefit offerings by connecting them to larger themes employees can relate to, such as the organization’s rewards philosophy or principles, they can improve employees’ perception of rewards by up to 17.5 percent. Similarly, in this year’s research on pay equity, we profile a video Shell produced to educate employees on the issue of pay equity. Educating employees on the topic is helping Shell combat confusion that can lead to negative perceptions of pay equity initiatives within the company.
Like Shell’s commitment to pay equity, Total considers diversity a core HR principle. A 92-page guide on a topic employers don’t typically address is bound to be splashy, as evidenced by the fact that it caught the Journal’s attention. As a fully optional additional resource for the workforce, it’s a creative way for Total to educate employees and use communication to reaffirm their commitment to diversity without actually creating new policies.