in the Workplace
Rick Rothacker (Charlotte Observer, 9 January 2005) link
Over lunch at SouthPark’s upscale La Bibliotheque restaurant, Glenn Love is talking business, but it sounds a lot like a sermon.With PowerPoint slides glowing behind him in the darkened dining room, he urges a group of small-business owners and executives to bring their faith to work.
“We exclude God from our business,” the Concord businessman says. “That is not biblical.”
Through a seminar series called Leaders Lighthouse, Love teaches companies to practice “servant leadership” and to identify employees’ individual talents.
“People are taught leadership is intimidation, abuse of power,” says the former banker and sports marketer. “Jesus was bottom up.”
Love and legions of believers like him are marching their religious beliefs, and practices, into the marketplace in multiplying numbers. Increasingly, executives and workers nationwide are saying religion isn’t just for Sundays.
This faith-in-the-workplace movement stretches from the White House to Ford Motor Co. to Coke Consolidated in Charlotte. It can range from lunchtime Bible studies to company service projects to mission statements that honor God.
Some see the movement as a way to improve values and morale on the job. Others see the office as fresh ground for recruiting souls. Some, however, worry about religion becoming too intrusive in the secular workplace.
“At the root of the movement is a quest for integration,” said David Miller, executive director of the Yale University Center for Faith & Culture. “People are tired of parking their souls with their cars in the parking lot when they go to work.”
It’s largely a grass-roots initiative that has mushroomed outside the realm of traditional churches, Miller said. He counts about 1,200 nonprofit groups addressing faith in the marketplace, compared with a couple of hundred a few years ago.
Christians are at the forefront of the trend, but Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and others also are toting their faith to the office, he said.
Changing demographics have helped fuel the trend, said Georgette Bennett, president of Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding in New York.
A maturing population is getting more in tune with spiritual needs, and increasingly diverse immigrants are adding their faiths to the mix. Politicians, largely in the Christian right, also are becoming more outspoken about their beliefs, she said.
A 2001 survey of human resources representatives by the center and the Society for Human Resource Management found 20 percent of respondents had an increase in religious accommodation requests, such as time off for religious holidays, over the past five years. Nearly 20 percent of respondents also reported employees proselytizing co-workers.
“I think this will absolutely continue and get much bigger,” Bennett said. “It’s the next big civil rights movement.”
Allegations of religious discrimination in the workplace have increased at the same time the movement has flourished. In 2003, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received about 2,500 complaints — up nearly 85 percent from 1992.
Employers are required to accommodate religious expression, but only to the point that it doesn’t cause undue hardship for the employer or co-workers. Where to draw the line, though, is often difficult to define, said James Ryan, a public affairs specialist with the EEOC.
“It’s all about respect and common sense,” he said. “Whether boss or worker bee, everyone has a right to profess a faith at work or not to profess a faith. Make sure everything you’re doing is not infringing on the rights of others.”
Faith is in company culture
At Charlotte’s Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, faith starts with a mission statement that says the company will honor God.The Coke bottler offers employees access to chaplains and has started a “stewardship program” that includes a lunchtime Bible study and a single-mothers support group.
“It’s recognition that employees have a body, mind and soul,” said Lauren Steele, vice president of corporate affairs. “People who have a stable home life are happier and more productive employees.”
The nation’s second-largest Coke bottler provided on-site chaplains through a Raleigh-area company called Corporate Chaplains of America for about a year and launched the stewardship program about six months ago. Both are voluntary.
About 100 employees in Charlotte participate in the Christian Bible study that meets once a week, Steele said. The company hasn’t had requests for other groups, but would be open to them, Steele said.
From top leadership to the rank-and-file, faith “is in the culture of the company,” he said.
In Atlanta at HomeBanc Mortgage Corp., faith is also part of the mission statement. Chief Executive Patrick Flood opens internal conference calls with prayer, and the mortgage bank has a minister-cum-human resources executive.
Dr. Ike Reighard, who uses the title “chief people officer,” leads company prayers, provides faith-based counsel when asked by employees and sometimes makes hospital visits. He said his transition to the corporate world was natural, noting people spend most of their waking hours at work.
“It makes all the sense in the world to expand the pulpit,” he said.
HomeBanc, which has offices in Charlotte and Raleigh, lists employees as its No. 1 priority, figuring customer service and profits will follow from there. It has been ranked as one of the country’s best places to work by Fortune magazine, helping the company to recruit top talent, he said.
HomeBanc’s Christian hue hasn’t scared away employees of other faiths, he said, noting he has a Jewish woman on his staff. “It’s never been an issue,” Reighard said. “She was attracted by the values.”
At other companies, employees are banding together to express their faith. Ford Motor Co., Texas Instruments Inc., American Airlines and Intel Corp. are among those that support religion-based employee groups.
Activities sanctioned by Ford’s “Interfaith Network” range from seminars about Islam after the Sept. 11 attacks to Bible groups studying the best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life.”
In Charlotte and nationwide, organizations with names such as Lead Like Jesus, Connecting Business Men to Christ, Search Ministries and Marketplace Leaders are promoting faith in the workplace.
Last year before the Wachovia Championship golf tournament, Search Ministries brought more than 900 businesspeople together at the Westin Charlotte in uptown to hear PGA Tour players such as Justin Leonard talk about their faith. The group also organizes programs at area YMCAs and at local companies.
Many participants are looking for more meaning in their worklife, said Davis Kuykendall, local area co-director for Search Ministries.
“A great number are people of means,” he said. “They got to the top of the flagpole and wonder what’s next.”
Some Christians see the workplace as a ripe missionary field.
A few years ago, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, now based in Charlotte, began to train churches to set up workplace ministry programs. And in May 2004, it held its first executive leadership forum at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville.
The guest list included notables such as Franklin Graham, motivational speaker Ken Blanchard, Chick-fil-A Chairman Truett Cathy and former Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts. Another forum is scheduled for May.
Christians don’t have to be missionaries in Africa to do godly work, said Jack Munday, ministry manager for the association.
“I would suggest that people are looking for purpose because they have not discovered their ministry is where they are at,” Munday said.
In the workplace, the organization is not encouraging the type of “proclamation” evangelism that Graham practices at stadiums, he said. Instead, it urges Christians to demonstrate their faith by the way they live — and share more when asked.
“We have to be people who live differently, work differently, serve differently,” he said. “It’s tough to talk about Jesus and have a poor work ethic.”
Gregory Pierce, the Chicago-based author of “Spirituality @ Work: 10 Ways to Balance Your Life on-the-Job,” said evangelical Christians tend to focus more on proselytizing, while Catholics and mainstream Protestants are less overt in expressing their religion.
“I’m not going to pray over you before I sell you something,” said Pierce, who is Catholic. “I’m going to give you a good product at a good price and try to be as environmentally sound as I can.”
Companies should strike a balance between encouraging faith in the workplace and pushing specific beliefs, advises Laura Nash, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School.
“Religion has a history of being a divider as well as a uniter,” said Nash, who has written extensively on the movement. “You can see this in the workplace. It’s a realistic concern.”
‘It’s about hearing’ God
Love, 46, started a management consulting firm in 1995. He added a Christian emphasis in 2002 after he said a little voice in his head told him to focus more on people than processes.”I had to redefine success and significance,” he said. “Before, it was about money and status. Now it’s about hearing what God wants you to accomplish.”
In July, he launched Leaders Lighthouse. He organizes small group discussions for Christian business leaders and larger luncheon meetings.
At the La Bibliotheque session, the restaurant’s owner, Brenda Bowling, gave a testimonial for the program.
“Leaders Lighthouse has changed my life,” she told the group. “It’s hard to be one person in business alone. I got an invitation to the first lunch and ever since I have grown closer to God and been able to function in business and in my personal life with (God’s) help.”
Bowling, a Christian before joining the group, said she now tries to handle problems at the restaurant more calmly. For example, if someone quits “it doesn’t seem to bother me as much. I accept the situation and don’t take it personally,” she said.
Love sees no conflict between mixing Christianity and business success. Christians can make money, but they are also to be good stewards of God’s resources and to share that wealth, he says.
During the closing prayer at the La Bibliotheque luncheon, he reflects this ethic, saying: “We speak prosperity to this very business.”
“We can be a church in the workplace,” he continues. “Help us make a difference.”
Thou Shalt not Discriminate…
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination by employers with 15 or more workers. Under Title VII, employers:
- May not treat employees or job applicants more or less favorably because of their religious beliefs.
- May not force employees to participate in a religious activity.
- Must reasonably accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. For example, employers might provide flexible scheduling or modify policies to accommodate an employee’s beliefs.
- Are not required to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs and practices if doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employers’ legitimate business interests.
- Must permit employees to engage in religious expression if employees are permitted to engage in other personal expression at work, unless the religious expression would impose an undue hardship to the employer.
- Must take steps to prevent religious harassment of their employees.
SOURCE: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission