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Employees more tolerant about religion than general public

Employees are more likely to show tolerance and understanding of religious beliefs than the general population, according to new research.

Education charity Culham St Gabriel’s Trust found that 63% of employees think it is important to understand a colleague's religious beliefs, compared with 61% of the general population.

“Over the past 50 years, Britain’s religious and cultural landscape has changed dramatically, with a decline in affiliation to some of the major religious traditions, an increase in others, and a rise in non-religious spiritual traditions,” said Kathryn Wright, CEO of Culham St Gabriel’s Trust.

“This, naturally, has implications for the UK workplace, with data suggesting the British workforce represents a ‘salad bowl’ of different religious and non-religious world views.”

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Wright said that changing demographics and the increasing globalisation of workforces is helping to expand employees’ outlook on other religions.

Speaking to HR magazine, Wright said: “The poll shows the difference that understanding one another’s world views can have on a positive working environment.

"Recruiting and preparing employees that understand the religious dimension and educating employees that are already in post is more vital than ever before. It shows that this is a really important part of the diversity and inclusion agenda and one that perhaps people don’t talk about as much as the other areas of D&I.”

Speaking to HR magazine, Shakil Butt, founder of HR Hero for Hire, said that employers need to do more than simply promote religious celebrations if they are to foster these kinds of positive attitudes among employees.

He said: “Too often faith is absent from the workplace or limited to the celebration of certain festivals or dates in the calendar.”

“It is almost seen as being a subject matter that HR practitioners are uncomfortable with for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, despite workplaces being an opportunity and a platform where differences can come together – myths can be dispelled and barriers can be broken down.”

Researchers also found that 67% of employees felt that self-knowledge or an understanding of their own beliefs was important to them, compared with 64% of all UK adults.

Over half of employees (52%) also said that an understanding of their own beliefs had a positive impact on their wellbeing.

“HR professionals need to appreciate how faith can be intrinsic to a person's identity and a very powerful reference point, but also how it can manifest itself differently from person to person, with varying degrees of adherence to a faith,’ added Butt.

“So it is important not to assume all people of a certain faith do X or Y but recognise that the practice of a person's faith can vary and each person should be treated as that, a person different from the next.”

Laura Marks, interfaith consultant for Common Good, told HR magazine that many employees feel wary about bringing faith to work.

She said: “Faith often feels like the ‘runt’ of the protected characteristics in the workplace. It’s time to recognise not only that a faith identity is a key part of many people’s lives but also that, for the vast majority, it is seen and used as a force for good. Our workplaces would be so much stronger and richer were they to welcome employees' faith and recognise it as an asset.”

The survey questioned 2,000 UK adults about their attitudes towards religious education on the school curriculum and its value in wider society.