Waters told HR magazine companies could greatly boost employee engagement and retention by gearing recruitment, benefits and training strategies around such a mindset.
“People need to realise that actually a Jewish male in his early twenties who has just become a father might have more in common with a 40-something Muslim employee who has also just become a father, than with other employees his age and religion,” she said.
“Rather than make assumptions that because you’re born at this point you’re going to be like this and you’re going to want to be treated in this way, if you look more holistically at the world that person is in then you’re much more likely to be able to retain them.”
The ex-director of people and policy at BT and regular on the HR Most Influential ranking, warned, however, that very few UK organisations currently fully appreciate this, estimating that around 5% to 10% take this approach.
“There’s a tendency to look at ‘what’s the thing that is going to get us into trouble'. People think: ‘the fact they’re a Muslim is more likely to be a problem to us'. But why would you start from that basis?”
“We still look at this negatively, rather than looking at what flexibility someone’s particular characteristics and stage of life might bring,” Waters added, citing the example of her former organisation BT, where recognising different religions’ Sabbaths enhanced flexible working arrangements in the employees’ and BT’s favour.
Waters said that HR professionals would better cater for the different needs of staff if they are more willing to work collaboratively with them.
“The big question in all of this is is HR still trying to come up with all of the answers, or reaching out to communities and saying: ‘you have got some of the solutions, talk to us about them.’”
Waters stated the issue of how to cater most effectively for a diverse range of employees will only become more important in future.
She said: “A lot of people in the future will be more mobile, which means your organisation will be full of a lot of different types of people. Therefore your investment should be in one system that gives choice.”