Religious fact in business: in the end, it is the managers who create the standards


The management of the religious fact has become a subject that has imposed itself for several years in organizations. In 2019, a report by the Institut Montaigne, produced in collaboration with the Observatory of Religious Facts in Business (OFRE), showed that more than 70% of people who responded to the survey met regularly (every day, week or month) or occasionally (every quarter, several times a year) religious facts at work.

Several legal developments have followed one another, the latest being the “separatism” law which has become law confirming respect for the principles of the Republic. At the end of 2020, this text extended the application of neutrality to certain private companies. Before it, the so-called El Khomri law specified the conditions for restricting religious expression by internal regulations. These legal reinforcements followed several emblematic cases, including the file of the Baby-Loup crèche. In 2008, an employee of a private associative structure “law 1901” was dismissed for refusing to remove the veil. After six years of judicial soap opera, the decision was finally confirmed by French justice before being the subject, in 2018, of an unfavorable opinion from the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UN ).

Despite these legal benchmarks, despite the business positions, in the field, however, we note that the rules remain above all fixed internally, by the managers, as cases arise. Above all, these standards produced constitute “managerial jurisprudence” which is essential for the rest of the life of the team on this subject. This is what emerges from our latest research work (to be published in the Revue française de gestion) conducted with 31 managers.

Offset of postures

The types of situations encountered lead to varied and sometimes counter-intuitive consequences. First, the decision in line with the posture does not seem to systematically lead to an overall alignment between organizational posture and operational posture, as recognized by a manager interviewed:

“Sometimes you're sure of yourself, it's like that, you don't know how to explain it, so you go ball in the head, and the guys fall on you a few days later. In my case, that's what happened.

Indeed, when the alignment is done in a specific way, i.e. for a category of facts (prayer, signs, etc.), this can lead certain managers, galvanized by their success, to reason by analogy on other categories, and to take a managerial posture which is not in conformity with the organizational posture.

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However, some decisions made without knowing the organizational posture sometimes result in compliance with this posture. Success then leads to a gain in confidence, and the criteria used are not made aware, as another respondent testifies:

“I decided by logic, my own logic, and then how it worked. I only found out afterwards, that's for sure, but I had made the right decision. […] I reasoned a bit the same afterwards, not by feeling but as I felt it. »

Conversely, when a decision has been made that does not comply with the posture, once the test of personal judgment has passed which complicates the period of consolidation of the operational posture, the supervisors question themselves more concerning the other categories of religious facts at work.

This personal judgment remains problematic for many of them, because it can come to question their positioning and their legitimacy within the team, underlines a manager:

"The problem is that once you've said something, and the next day you say the opposite, you come across as a joke, so you row, you explain, you say you were wrong, and Clearly, you can't go wrong every four mornings! »

In a situation where there is no organizational posture, managers are all the more forced to decide for themselves. They thus build a local and autonomous managerial posture, which acts as a deregulation of the fact. This posture then seems difficult to reverse.

It should also be noted that, in some cases, the deferred decision leads to the definition of the organizational posture by top management, which is done either specifically by categories of facts, or generally. Here, it is the managerial action that pushes the top to position itself.

“We are paid to know what to do”

Finally, a more negative consequence of delayed decisions is that they can expose the manager in matters of credibility. One respondent thus explains that she is sometimes forced to say that she does not know what decision to make, to make her teams wait:

“It's always very delicate not to know, well no, it's always very delicate to recognize it. We get paid to know what to do. »

So it seems easier to find a "common ground" when the first decision, which defines a managerial posture, has proven to be consistent with the organizational posture, despite the risks that we describe. These results can also be highlighted with other research works which show that a high density of religious fact at work complicates the work of the manager, confronted with a more intense, more frequent and more diverse phenomenon.

The quasi-jurisdictional character of managerial action and posture could be even more marked in this type of situation, because the questioning of this posture could be even stronger there, as could the difficult reversibility of a decision.

In approaching this concept of management as quasi-judicial system, this study shows how management builds local jurisprudence, in the Anglo-Saxon sense of the term. It highlights how this "local law" shapes future behavior and impacts the behavior of actors in situations.

Thus, these results clearly show the effect of experience of the phenomenon, and the need to anticipate the management of this phenomenon, including in organizations that are not yet confronted with it. Knowing that he is a producer of case law by his own posture, the manager could thus be invited to systematically re-analyze situations with a view to aligning organizational and operational postures. A good way to reduce the gap between words and deeds, already identified in some companies.

Hugo gaillard, Senior Lecturer in Management Sciences, Le Mans University et Olivier Meier, University Professor, Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne University (UPEC)

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

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