It may be uncomfortable for some to acknowledge, but faith has become an increasing force in the workplace. Faith practices and diversity are on the rise in the United States, and the combination of these trends has created the need for employers to accommodate practices once considered inappropriate in the work setting.
Work environments have long been teaming with undercover Christians, Muslims, and other religious practitioners. Now human resource (HR) professionals and business leaders are being overtly encouraged to demonstrate greater sensitivity and support for various religious beliefs. Gone are the days when employee assistance programs (EAPs) could be solely relied upon to settle deeply personal issues beyond the bounds of normal HR or management assignments.
For years these EAPs have been offered as a standard counseling, recruiting and retainment strategy, costing millions of dollars, with the belief being that secular counseling could best help employees overcome obstacles deemed outside the bounds of regular business coaching or correction.
However, a study released by Marketplace Chaplains showed that only 3% of employees utilize these programs. Whereas 40% of employees in companies that offer chaplaincy programs avail themselves of this service. When offered faith-based assistance, employees reacted “very favorably.” On whole they actually respond better to faith based support over secular referrals. Employees typically felt uncomfortable telling their bosses or HR about personal issues, however a chaplain provided the trust and caring support many desired.
Indeed, a 2008 study by the Families and Work Institute found that more than 97 percent of companies with payrolls greater than 5,000 employees offer employee assistance programs, with anonymous counseling and referrals available by phone. Yet employees are “dramatically” more likely to use workplace chaplains than standard mental-health benefits, according to preliminary results from an ongoing study by David Miller and Faith Ngunjiri of Princeton University’s Faith & Work Initiative. At least half of 1,000 employees surveyed have used the services of a workplace chaplain—far more than those who use standard assistance programs.
Obviously people want faith based solutions as much if not more than psychological ones. This holds true whether one celebrates Easter, Yom Kippur, Ramadan, or no religious observances. Even atheists must have faith in themselves, or they will struggle with their motive to achieve success. The process of building workplace motivation begins with finding one’s faith entity, which by simple definition is the arbiter of one’s truth: that driving force or being that defines for a person what’s right or wrong, and the reason for one’s life. Most would say God is that arbiter of truth.
The vast majority of people in the world, almost ninety percent by most surveys, practice some form of religion, with Christianity representing thirty-four percent of the world’s population, followed by Islam at twenty-two percent. Only eleven percent classify themselves as non-religious or atheist. Recent Pew Research Center statistics show that the number of Americans who identify as Christian is 70.6 percent. In the workplace it’s estimated that over 90 percent of employees identify faith as important to them.
Because of a preponderance of faith believers in the workplace, employers all over the Western world have been warned. Unless they make allowances for the religious faiths of their workforces, they will suffer lawsuits, official rebukes and protests from employees. Employees increasingly expect, for example, to be given appropriate times and places for prayer, dress in accordance with their faith, and fellowship with other believers while at work.
Guidelines from America’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pointed out the steady rise in religious-discrimination cases (a recent peak of 4,151, up from 1,709 in 1997). Charges of religious discrimination in the workplace have jumped 46 percent since the beginning of the decade, leading to renewed calls for religious accommodations. For example, businesses must respect the personal faith practices of their staff—time for prayer, say—if these staff members are inspired by their faith to do so. It’s no longer a “nice thing to have faith in the workplace” – it’s a legal requirement. But, it’s not just laws that prompt many in business to accommodate faith practices, it’s also just good business practice.
Moreover, for many workers, their religious beliefs and values are motivating factors. More than a third of working Americans said they routinely pursue excellence in their work because of their faith, according to a 2010 poll conducted by Gallup for Baylor University, a private Christian institution in Texas.
As proof I want to tell you about something that may be a shock, but I’ve personally counseled hundreds of persons in accordance with their faith – in the workplace. Allow me to explain why this should be the norm, and not the exception. If you were in a crisis situation and you needed care for an elder father or mother, a child, or other loved one, and you were required to come to work during that crisis, what would you do? Many of you would do the same thing at work that you would do in the ICU at the hospital. You would pray. You’d practice your faith.
So why shouldn’t we practice this type of faith in the workplace as a common occurrence? My results in counseling others in their faith have been nothing short of amazing! People have felt energized, honored by their employer, and relieved of some of their most troublesome burdens.
Now, I’m a Christian, but I’ve counseled Muslims and atheists alike. More and more I’m finding that secular based companies are providing options for their large base of faith-based employees. Companies are now making accommodations for their employees, like allowing meeting room space during breaks and lunch-time for employees seeking fellowship with other believers. Company leaders secretly admit the “special ingredient” for motivating many disengaged or demotivated employees is…faith.
I recall one gentleman who confided in me that he felt his boss was trying to get him “fired.” “Where’s God?” he said. “I can’t take this anymore” was his daily mantra. He wanted to quit his job. Then, something wonderful happened. It wasn’t a thundering roar from parting clouds raining light upon him. No, we simply prayed. After awhile he actually acknowledged a compassion for his boss. He even walked into the bosses’ office one day and offered to help him. Guess what? The boss confided in this person that his wife wanted a divorce, and the impending divorce had caused the boss to become very irritable. After that meeting, my “prayer partner” became the bosses’ confidante, and they spent lunches outside of work like good friends.
This I know — prayer changes things and faith belongs in business. No, faith in the workplace is not proselytizing someone with your beliefs and telling that person he or she needs to “get saved.” Faith is believing in the unseen and believing in a God who loves them and that prayer produces results – should that person wish to believe. Faith works in the workplace.
Faith, by definition, is “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” Do you desire to reach beyond yourself? If so, who best fits that definition for you? You or God? Well, if it’s God, you will probably find more peace-of-mind. You can find hope in someone beyond yourself. You may also live longer.
A respected study conducted over a six-year period among 4,000 persons aged sixty-five years and over asked about their health problems and whether respondents prayed, meditated, or read the Bible. According to a Garnett News Service article, researchers discovered that those seniors who said they rarely or never prayed ran about a fifty-percent greater risk of dying earlier than those seniors who prayed at least once month. While this study is not in and of itself conclusive, other studies confirm that faith and prayer lead to more satisfying lives. Hallelujah! What thriving person wouldn’t want to live longer?
Living longer also involves living a more abundant life, and more and more companies are turning to formal chaplaincy programs to help employees of faith attain this level of fulfillment. In 2000, Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson established a chaplain program for the company’s employees because “he recognized the importance of faith in the lives of our people,” explains Rodney Nagel, senior vice president of human resources operations. The company now employs more than 120 chaplains, mostly part time, to serve 265 of its more than 400 facilities in the U.S. and Mexico.
“This is not faith-based but faith-friendly,” Nagel explains. “Our workforce is very diverse and is made up of a lot of faith groups and people without any particular faith affiliation. So we wanted to make sure we could serve them all because that’s one of our cultural tenets—we take care of each other.”
Tyson Foods has chaplains representing 27 different Christian faith groups. More than half of the chaplains are bilingual. They work with employees of all faiths as well as those who have no connection to any religion. “We still reach out to leaders of other faiths, such as Islam, for consultation on matters involving employees of those faiths,” Nagel says.
Chaplains are included in employee orientation at some locations, where they talk about the importance of treating one another with respect. They also make weekly visits to different shifts working in the company’s plants and offices. “They have helped us not only when our team members have some crisis in their lives but also when they have some joy in their lives,” says Nagel, adding that the chaplains have played a role in improving employee retention, as well. The company’s turnover rate dropped about 50 percent between 2003 and 2012; Nagel attributes that in part to the chaplain program.
American Airlines supports faith-based employee resource groups —all formed through the initiation of employees. “We truly believe that when people come to work, they don’t leave their beliefs at the door,” says Irene del Corral, senior specialist for diversity strategies at American Airlines and liaison to the company’s groups. “You can’t walk into your work area and stop being a single mom or a gentleman caring for elderly parents. And you can’t stop being a Christian or a Muslim. Plus, she adds, “we find that when you allow people to get together for a common interest … it just makes people feel appreciated.” On the business side, the Christian employee resource group has helped the airline’s sales group connect with Christian churches and conventions for group travel discounts, which brought $900,000 in sales last year, del Corral says.
With this and other advantages of workplace faith programs firmly rooted in fact, our learning and development organization, PACEsetters, partnered with Alistair Howie of Chaplain 360 to form a care provider service for workplaces. Workplace chaplains, or what we call “care providers,” can be found at more than 1,000 companies in the U.S. and Canada. It’s a growing trend in employee services provided by concerned companies wishing to provide for the “whole” employee, and the bottom line results follow.
For example, absenteeism costs companies $789 per employee per year, and 78% of absences are due to personal problems equaling a $615 charge to the bottom line. If a chaplain or care provider helps resolve only 10% of those problems, this would save $61.50 per employee annually.
Turnover costs 2.5x’s a full-time employee’s salary. A productive $55,000 a year, tenured employee leaving a company costs $122,500. The Department of Labor statistics show that 46% of the people that leave a company voluntarily do so because they don’t feel valued. Faith based care providers can significantly reduce these costs, as I implied in my aforementioned story about the employee who felt animosity toward his boss, ready to quit. They routinely help dissatisfied employees work through their problems, feel valued and remain on the job. If a care provider can prevent even one productive employee from leaving, the savings would far exceed any program cost.
Fraud costs the average company $4500 per employee annually. Beyond the financial loss of fraud is the loss of morale causing workplace reductions in productivity. Care providers help employees share their problems confidentially and in some cases can help eliminate the potential for fraud. If a care provider only prevented 2% of employee fraud, the savings would be $90 per employee annually.
A savings of $151.50 would be realized per employee annually if only 2 of the 10 benefits mentioned above were realized. Improved morale and teamwork are two of the foremost benefits of such a faith-based care program.
Additionally, human resource professionals indicate the return on a dollar invested in employee care ranges from $5-$16. Although it may not be possible to precisely value a care provider program’s impact, a logical deduction would conclude that improved employee motivation, teamwork, morale, and loyalty would result in meeting or exceeding company goals by impacting some if not all of the aforementioned areas – not to mention the increased productivity that invariably results from self-empowered and highly motivated workers.
If you would like to learn more about this issue, need personal faith-based care, or would like to know about our care provider services for your organization, I would be delighted to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you are feeling alone or challenged, please know that faith in God can provide the assurance so that you can triumph over it. If you, like me before becoming a believer tend to think more from your head than from your heart, please know this: believing does not deny your ability to reason, rather it complements your mind’s finite ability – it gives you something or someone beyond yourself to hold onto. It gives you hope. And I pray you find that hope and assurance today and wherever you find yourself – including work!
– Randy Kay is a CEO of TenorCorp/PACEsetters, a strategic and talent development firm. Prior to this he has overseen training and development for top performing companies, been a biotech CEO, Board Member for over 20 organizations, executive for Fortune 100 companies, and has published four books and several articles in business magazines such as Switch & Shift and Forbes as well as conducted interviews through numerous networks. He is also an ordained minister and trained corporate counselor. Do you want to grow and develop your career and life? Contact Randy Kay directly (@ email@example.com) or discover more atwww.pacesetters.training
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“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us.” – C.S. Lewis