Now Ramadan has begun (it commenced May 26) many Muslim employees will be fasting each day from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, lasts for 28 or 29 days and is a period of deep spiritual reflection for Muslims.
There is a widely-held misconception that employees who allocate time in their working day to observing elements of their belief, such as fasting, are less productive. As an experienced HR director my view is that a good employer will get to know their staff, be flexible, have a person-centred approach, and make adjustments – otherwise the outcome is likely to be less productive.
Currently about one in eight Touchstone staff are Muslim and we also have workers from a number of other faiths and beliefs. Fasting and abstinence is not unique to Muslims; other belief systems also promote the observance of similar practices. At Touchstone we consider fasting, and other customs associated with employees observing their religion, in a wider and inclusive perspective that is not just focused on one particular faith group.
Our approach to supporting staff of all faiths is aligned to our vision, values and strategy – we see it as an organisational priority and never an 'add on'. Fasting or celebrating a religious holiday is very short term, and we see no loss of productivity when staff practise their faith.
This is how we get the best from our people no matter what their religion or beliefs:
- All our services have access to a ‘diversity calendar' that includes significant religious and spiritual dates. This enables managers and their teams to plan ahead and prioritise work around the needs of all staff and service users.
- Our chief executive Alison Lowe sends an email to all employees at the start of a religious holiday period or day to collectively celebrate all faith events.
- We have a person-centred approach; everyone is an individual and has different needs.
- Flexible working allows staff to observe their religious obligations and still meet business needs. For example, during Ramadan employees may be allowed to start and finish work early or late as long as this does not have an adverse impact on the business. Employees can be encouraged to use their annual leave to allow added flexibility.
- We ensure staff take breaks when they need them. A steady 10-minute walk does a world of good – and not just for those fasting.
- At all Touchstone sites we have rooms or spaces set aside for prayer, reflection or meditation, and these can be used by both employees and our service users. Anyone fasting will welcome a quiet place where they can charge their batteries and reflect.
- Communicate to all employees ahead of Ramadan, or any other relevant religious date, so that they are more sensitive to the needs of colleagues who may be carrying out a religious observance.
Our practice of inclusion is part of a wider approach that leads to staff feeling safe and supported. This is validated by statistics from our last employee survey in which 92% said they feel valued, and 97% believe that the organisation values diversity.
Kathryn Hart is HR director at mental health charity Touchstone