Articulating one's work and one's faith, how do employees react to opposition from their hierarchy?

Articulating one's work and one's faith, how do employees react to opposition from their hierarchy

10 years ago, on the agenda of the Social Chamber of the Court of Cassation, theBaby-Loup case, which has since become emblematic of the question of religious fact au job. Could an employee of this private associative nursery be dismissed for serious misconduct because she had not respected the internal regulations by wearing an ostentatious religious sign and for her behavior? Yes, the Court eventually decided after several round trips: his employer could impose restrictions on the freedom to manifest his religious beliefs because they were justified "by the nature of the task to be performed and proportionate to the aim sought" and were not not "general and imprecise".

Since the early 2010s, issues related to Religion in the news have been the subject of growing interest from researchers, businesses, the media and even politicians.

Two out of three companies say they are concerned with very different realities from one organization to another: the presence of religion in the workplace is sometimes invisible, sometimes fluid and sometimes conflictual. They are increasingly acquiringmanagement tools and devices to promote religious neutrality or, conversely, to make the religious practice of employees a vector of inclusion.

After the Baby-Loup case law, the 2016 labor law has built the basis of a legal framework that the judges came to clarify, judgment after judgment. For their part, the research work began by defining and describing before measuring. They looked at the impact of religious facts and behaviors on the organization of work and professional relations as well as the resulting managerial issues. Academics have thus responded to the first requests of political and business leaders: to know and understand this phenomenon of religion at work and then to identify the issues and the conditions for taking charge of it.

Until now, one dimension has remained unclear, that of the point of view of the practicing employee: how does he apprehend the articulation between work and faith? In recent research, we studied the reactions of believers when everything does not go as they had imagined, upset or blocked by the company and its management: what happens when its way of reconciling the two is refused?

Risky revelations

Revealing, intentionally or unintentionally, one's religious beliefs and practices at work can be done in different ways. It can be through a sign, a piece of jewelery or clothing, during a discussion with colleagues, or through a request, for example, to be able to adapt one's schedule. This can happen more actively, by asserting a position in the name of a religious principle, such as a refusal to perform a task or to work with a woman or a person of another religion.

Whatever the manner and whatever the religion, revealing one's religious beliefs and practices at work exposes them to a risk of stigmatization by his colleagues and judgment by his superiors. It means taking the risk of modifying the view of others and of exposing oneself to diffuse sanctions such as laughter, sarcasm or sidelining.

In the same way, by affirming their religiosity at work, the individual also shows the way in which they articulate (or wish to articulate) their religious and professional practices. He submits her to the judgment of his manager. The latter can then question the projection of his subordinate in his work as a practitioner.

All this remains difficult for the employee to anticipate. THE field surveys have in fact shown that the management of religion is often heterogeneous and not always coherent. It often remains difficult to know what it is possible or not to do and this results in reactions and decisions that are potentially misunderstood or poorly accepted. When the way in which they had envisaged the place of their religiosity at work is called into question, the practicing employees whom we observed and questioned adopt three types of reactions.

Invisibilization, confrontation and departure

A first group takes refuge in the invisibilization of beliefs at work. Employees abandon all practice or reduce it to a minimum at times and in places that make it discreet, during breaks or travel for example. A Catholic worker in an industrial company explained to us as follows:

"I had remarks from the chef so I'm careful. Before, I already didn't practice in the middle of the workshop: I said a little prayer in the locker room and before eating with a sign of the cross. Now if I do it's really discreet, when I'm alone, at the break, hop a little prayer in my head, without a sign, and that's it.

Understanding managerial action and its functional, fair and equitable characteristics seems decisive for acceptance by the employee, even if it can always be accompanied by resignation and frustration. A Muslim employee of a commercial agency explains her reaction when her manager, Valentin, asked her to remove her veil in front of customers:

"I understand that there are customers who are bothered by it, let's say that I accept it. I knew that I could be asked to do so, even if I would feel better with it. I take it off when I arrive and I put it back on. I don't want to make waves: I don't want to create any problems for Valentin, for the team, or for me."

On the other hand, other employees will refuse managerial action and will maintain their religious practice, even if it means confronting the hierarchy. Here, the incomprehension of managerial action and its ethical, fair and functional dimensions coexists with a questioning of the legitimacy of management and the company to constrain religious practice.

"I do not agree. There is no valid reason for me to remove my veil. The only reason is that it does not please my superior. She is against it because she is self - saying feminist. It has nothing to do with work. She can try to fire me if she wants, I won't take it away, not without real reasons in any case", gets carried away by a Muslim employee of a functional department of a logistics company.

"It's my religion before the company", also told us an evangelical Christian worker in a construction company.

People in the last group will come to leave the company. During the interviews, we identified four methods, which can possibly be implemented jointly: becoming self-employed; look for a new job in companies open to religious practice, often spotted by communities of practitioners who list them on social networks; going abroad to countries and geographical areas that are supposed to be more open to religion at work, such as the Gulf countries, the United Kingdom, Canada or the United States; increase their employability in order to compensate for the handicap represented by the visibility of religious practice.

The employee to propose?

All of this seems to depend on three elements: the attachment to religious practice, a feeling of weariness with what is perceived as stigmatizing and discriminatory practices and managerial behaviors and the desire to find a professional context without tensions linked to the practice. religious.

When observant employees perceive a tension between their religious practice and their professional role, we have also observed that they rarely mobilize company resources to find solutions. They very rarely have recourse to discussions with management or with functional services. Rather, they turn to people outside the company or refer, in a mimetic logic, to the behavior of other practitioners in the company or outside.

This distrust vis-à-vis the company and its management can be understood insofar as we are interested here in the reactions to restrictive and restrictive managerial actions. It can also be analyzed with regard to the characteristics of the French model of religious management.

In France, the starting point for managing religion and taking into account behavior reflecting religious practice is the neutrality imposed by the company subject to compliance with a certain number of criteria and constraints. Religious practice is tolerated in hollow, outside this space of neutrality.

Spaces of neutrality and tolerance of behavioral prescriptions in tension are thus juxtaposed, and it is up to the employee to propose an articulation of these prescriptions. The manager will assess its relevance, validate it or question it through an action to which the practitioner will react in turn in a way that can take one of the three forms identified above.

Lionel honore, University Professor, IAE of Brest, University of Western Brittany, LEGO, IAE Brest

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read original article.

Image credit: Shutterstock/Streetcats Studio

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